HTTP offers a number of methods that can be used to perform actions on the web server. Many of theses methods are designed to aid developers in deploying and testing HTTP applications. These HTTP methods can be used for nefarious purposes if the web server is misconfigured. Additionally, Cross Site Tracing (XST), a form of cross site scripting using the server's HTTP TRACE method, is examined.
While GET and POST are by far the most common methods that are used to access information provided by a web server, the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) allows several other (and somewhat less known) methods. RFC 2616 (which describes HTTP version 1.1 which is the standard today) defines the following eight methods:
Some of these methods can potentially pose a security risk for a web application, as they allow an attacker to modify the files stored on the web server and, in some scenarios, steal the credentials of legitimate users. More specifically, the methods that should be disabled are the following:
If an application needs one or more of these methods, such as REST Web Services (which may require PUT or DELETE), it is important to check that their usage is properly limited to trusted users and safe conditions.
Arshan Dabirsiaghi (see links) discovered that many web application frameworks allowed well chosen or arbitrary HTTP methods to bypass an environment level access control check:
Many frameworks and languages treat "HEAD" as a "GET" request, albeit one without any body in the response. If a security constraint was set on "GET" requests such that only "authenticatedUsers" could access GET requests for a particular servlet or resource, it would be bypassed for the "HEAD" version. This allowed unauthorized blind submission of any privileged GET request.
Some frameworks allowed arbitrary HTTP methods such as "JEFF" or "CATS" to be used without limitation. These were treated as if a "GET" method was issued, and were found not to be subject to method role based access control checks on a number of languages and frameworks, again allowing unauthorized blind submission of privileged GET requests.
In many cases, code which explicitly checked for a "GET" or "POST" method would be safe.
Discover the Supported Methods
To perform this test, the tester needs some way to figure out which HTTP methods are supported by the web server that is being examined. The OPTIONS HTTP method provides the tester with the most direct and effective way to do that. RFC 2616 states that, "The OPTIONS method represents a request for information about the communication options available on the request/response chain identified by the Request-URI".
The testing method is extremely straightforward and we only need to fire up netcat (or telnet):
$ nc www.victim.com 80 OPTIONS / HTTP/1.1 Host: www.victim.com HTTP/1.1 200 OK Server: Microsoft-IIS/5.0 Date: Tue, 31 Oct 2006 08:00:29 GMT Connection: close Allow: GET, HEAD, POST, TRACE, OPTIONS Content-Length: 0
As we can see in the example, OPTIONS provides a list of the methods that are supported by the web server, and in this case we can see that TRACE method is enabled. The danger that is posed by this method is illustrated in the following section
Test XST Potential
Note: in order to understand the logic and the goals of this attack one must be familiar with Cross Site Scripting attacks.
As mentioned before, TRACE simply returns any string that is sent to the web server. In order to verify its presence (or to double-check the results of the OPTIONS request shown above), the tester can proceed as shown in the following example:
$ nc www.victim.com 80 TRACE / HTTP/1.1 Host: www.victim.com HTTP/1.1 200 OK Server: Microsoft-IIS/5.0 Date: Tue, 31 Oct 2006 08:01:48 GMT Connection: close Content-Type: message/http Content-Length: 39 TRACE / HTTP/1.1 Host: www.victim.com
There are multiple ways to make a browser issue a TRACE request, such as the XMLHTTP ActiveX control in Internet Explorer and XMLDOM in Mozilla and Netscape. However, for security reasons the browser is allowed to start a connection only to the domain where the hostile script resides. This is a mitigating factor, as the attacker needs to combine the TRACE method with another vulnerability in order to mount the attack.
An attacker has two ways to successfully launch a Cross Site Tracing attack:
More detailed information, together with code samples, can be found in the original whitepaper written by Jeremiah Grossman.
Find a page to visit that has a security constraint such that it would normally force a 302 redirect to a log in page or forces a log in directly. The test URL in this example works like this, as do many web applications. However, if a tester obtains a "200" response that is not a log in page, it is possible to bypass authentication and thus authorization.
$ nc www.example.com 80 JEFF / HTTP/1.1 Host: www.example.com HTTP/1.1 200 OK Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2008 22:38:40 GMT Server: Apache Set-Cookie: PHPSESSID=K53QW...
If the framework or firewall or application does not support the "JEFF" method, it should issue an error page (or preferably a 405 Not Allowed or 501 Not implemented error page). If it services the request, it is vulnerable to this issue.
If the tester feels that the system is vulnerable to this issue, they should issue CSRF-like attacks to exploit the issue more fully:
With some luck, using the above three commands - modified to suit the application under test and testing requirements - a new user would be created, a password assigned, and made an administrator.
Find a page to visit that has a security constraint such that it would normally force a 302 redirect to a log in page or forces a log in directly. The test URL in this example works like this, as do many web applications. However, if the tester obtains a "200" response that is not a login page, it is possible to bypass authentication and thus authorization.
$ nc www.example.com 80 HEAD /admin HTTP/1.1 Host: www.example.com HTTP/1.1 200 OK Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2008 22:44:11 GMT Server: Apache Set-Cookie: PHPSESSID=pKi...; path=/; HttpOnly Expires: Thu, 19 Nov 1981 08:52:00 GMT Cache-Control: no-store, no-cache, must-revalidate, post-check=0, pre-check=0 Pragma: no-cache Set-Cookie: adminOnlyCookie1=...; expires=Tue, 18-Aug-2009 22:44:31 GMT; domain=www.example.com Set-Cookie: adminOnlyCookie2=...; expires=Mon, 18-Aug-2008 22:54:31 GMT; domain=www.example.com Set-Cookie: adminOnlyCookie3=...; expires=Sun, 19-Aug-2007 22:44:30 GMT; domain=www.example.com Content-Language: EN Connection: close Content-Type: text/html; charset=ISO-8859-1
If the tester gets a "405 Method not allowed" or "501 Method Unimplemented", the target (application/framework/language/system/firewall) is working correctly. If a "200" response code comes back, and the response contains no body, it's likely that the application has processed the request without authentication or authorization and further testing is warranted.
If the tester thinks that the system is vulnerable to this issue, they should issue CSRF-like attacks to exploit the issue more fully:
With some luck, using the above three commands - modified to suit the application under test and testing requirements - a new user would be created, a password assigned, and made an administrator, all using blind request submission.