Breaking In Through The
Front Door
The Impact of Web Applications and
Application Service Provision on
Traditional Security Models
Shaun Clowes –
 A Brief History of Computing
 Web Application environments
 Dangers of Web Applications
 Exploiting PHP Applications
 Testing Web Applications
 Protecting Web Applications
 Questions?
A Brief History Of Computing
 How has the security problem space
evolved over time?
 What new problems are we facing?
 Are we eliminating old problems?
Ancient History
 Ancient History – 1940’s and 50’s
 Eniac, Univac etc.
 Not exactly many security issues
Commercial Computing
 Early 1960’s
 Transistors and later Integrated Circuits
 IBM’s 701 and later 360
 Batch processing
 Still not exactly difficult to secure
Multi User Systems
 Late 1960’s
 IBM’s 360/67, CP/CMS and later VM/CMS
 Terminals
 Security begins to become an issue
 Students stealing CPU time
Centralized Computing
 1970
 PDP Machines
 The birth of Unix
 Word processing, true multi user operating
 Attacks against local applications and social
Client / Server
 Late 1970’s and early 1980’s
 Microcomputers interfacing with
Minicomputers and Mainframes
 Advent of ‘Network Services’
 Security becomes a larger problem space
 Attacks against open services
 The advent of anonymity
The Internet
 Circa Late 1987 to now
 Unix supports TCP/IP, commercial
 Security explodes, threat rises dramatically
 Complete anonymity
 Service attacks become widespread
 The Morris Worm - 1988
The Defence
 Internet not friendly
 Attacks:
– Local Applications
– Social Engineering
– Externally Accessible Services
 Developed defence technologies
 Packet Filters
– IP routers with filters
 Application Layer
– Marcus Ranum – DEC SEAL
 Stateful Inspection
– Gil Shwed – Firewall 1 - Checkpoint
 Limiting exposure of services
Intrusion Detection Systems
 Network Based
– Network Flight Recorder, Snort etc
– Detect
 Host Based
– LIDS etc
– Detect, Prevent
 Limit anonymity,
 Limit timeframe for attacks
Defence Weaknesses
 Local attacks still very common where
command execution is possible
 Administrators actively patch multi user
 Access to other machines (e.g Web Servers)
limited to trusted users
Where Are We Headed?
Centralized Computing
Client/Server Computing
Where Are We Headed?
Centralized Computing
Client/Server Computing
Web/Thin Client/ASP
Architecture Benefits
 No client side software (web browser)
– No versioning issues
– No platform compatibility issues
 3rd tier servers behind firewall, not directly
 Web Applications run on trusted machine
– Can they trust their environment?
Architecture Drawbacks
 Processing load on web server
 Can be complex to develop in traditional
Architecture Risks
 Web Applications must be secure
– Can access 3rd tier servers with privileges
– Subverted Web Applications not controlled
(typically) by Firewall
– IDS unlikely to see attacks against Web
 Web Applications do not fit into security
model for Centralized or Client/Server
The Result
 Despite risks/drawbacks, Web Applications
being deployed in increasing numbers
 So what sort of attacks are we exposing
ourselves to?
Attack Scenarios - 1
1. Attack SQL queries including client input
2. Gain elevated privileges to
1. Application – See Attack Scenario 2
2. Database server
3. Use access on Database server to further
elevate privileges
On DB Server via local exploits
On other hosts by trust relationships and
service attacks
Attack Scenarios 1 cont.
 SQL attacks well covered elsewhere, not
focus here
 For more information:
– Search BugTraq
– David Litchfield – “Remote Web Application
Dissassembly with ODBC Error Messages”
Attack Scenarios 2
1. Attack vulnerabilities in Web Application
code or environment
2. Results in:
1. Elevated Privileges in Application
 Exploit Application further
2. Local Code Execution
 Exploit local vulnerabilities (little patching)
 Exploit trust relationships with 3rd tier
3. End Result:
– Major privileges on network
Other Attack Scenario’s
 Other Attacks possible against underlying
Architecture (e.g Web Server)
 Well covered in JD Glaser’s presentation
Driving the Change
 Web Applications previously developed in:
– Perl
 Not designed for the Web
 Web Languages developed:
– ASP (VBScript)
– ColdFusion
Web Languages
 4th Generation Languages
 Tags embedded in HTML pages
 Very feature rich
 Designed to be simple
– Coding falls to Web Designers
Web Languages - Issues
 Languages make it hard to write secure
applications (especially PHP)
 One function can behave in many ways (for
ease of use)
 Loosely typed, no variable declaration
 Blur border between user input and
application variables
 Software written by non coders, don’t
understand issues
Focus on PHP
 PHP = “PHP Hypertext Preprocessor”
 Installed on 37% of Apache servers (E-Soft
Web Survey)
 Lots of applications being written for it
 Discuss
– Common mistakes with PHP
– How PHP makes secure code difficult
PHP – Global Input Variables
 Form variables end up as global variables in
 For Example:
<FORM ACTION="<name>.php" METHOD="post">
<INPUT TYPE="text" NAME="hello">
<INPUT TYPE="submit">
 When submitted, the variable $hello in PHP
contains the value specified in the form
PHP – Global Input Variables
 Attacker can pollute the global namespace
 For Example:
– A script sets the variable $auth to true if its
authenticated the remote user
– The attacker provides auth as true through form
 Script cannot trust any variable it hasn’t
explicitly set
PHP – File Upload
 SecureReality Advisory 1 (SRADV00001)
 Automatically handles RFC 1867
 For Example:
<FORM ENCTYPE=“multipart/form-data”
ACTION="<name>.php" METHOD="post">
<INPUT TYPE="hidden" name="MAX_FILE_SIZE"
<INPUT TYPE=“file" NAME="hello">
<INPUT TYPE="submit">
 If file is less than max_file_size its saved
locally (usually in /tmp)
PHP – File Upload
 The script is given variables
– $hello = Location of file on local system
– $hello_name = Remote filename
– $hello_size = Byte size of file
– $hello_type = MIME Type of file
PHP – File Upload
 An attacker can set max_file_size to an
arbitrary value
 Gain?
 Limited by PHP configuration directive
 Just submit multiple files
 Still limited by maximum execution time
PHP – File Upload
 An attacker can get the application to work on a
file local to the machine
 Use a form like:
<FORM ACTION="<name>.php" METHOD="post">
<INPUT TYPE=“hidden" NAME="hello“ VALUE=“/etc/passwd”>
<INPUT TYPE=“hidden” NAME=“hello_size” VALUE=“100”>
<INPUT TYPE=“hidden” NAME=“hello_type” VALUE=“text/plain”>
<INPUT TYPE=“hidden” NAME=“hello_name” VALUE=“hello”>
<INPUT TYPE="submit">
 We’ve used our ability to affect global variables to
create the variables expected by the script
PHP – File Upload
 This will often lead to exposure of sensitive
file contents
 Hard to detect this attack in all but the most
recent versions of PHP
 Latest versions make this easy to detect
 Latest documentation makes the problem
 Problem still common
PHP – Remote Files
 Typical file operations support Remote Files
 The following code opens a file:
If (!($file = fopen(“$hello”, “r”))
echo(“Could not open file!”);
 If $hello beings with http:// or ftp:// PHP
will go to network
PHP – Remote Files
 How does an attacker use it?
 Remote Files works for most file operations
in PHP
 Include() and require() read a file and
interpret it as though it were PHP code
 Typically used to support “library” concept
PHP – Remote Files
 For example:
 $langdir is a configuration variable
specifying the directory for scripts for a
certain language
PHP – Remote Files
 The attacker can set $confdir with form
 If she can prevent the script overwriting it
she can submit:
 If the attacker creates a file on their
webserver called languages.php
 Code execution
PHP - Parsing
 Certain file types are configured in the web
server to be parsed as PHP
 Other types could well be returned as plain
 PHP Library files are typically named
<library>.php, so they cannot have source
PHP – Parsing
 Thus remote user can remotely request a
library file and have it parsed
 Loss of dependencies
 Code can no longer rely on an environment
Real Life Vulnerabilities
 Following are several in depth examples of
security compromises through popular open
source PHP Web Applications.
 Attacks are via Web Browser
– No special software
– Breaking in through the front door
 Attacks are normal HTTP requests
 At time of writing vendors have not been
notified of the vulnerabilities to be
discussed. They have thus been omitted
from this version of the presentation.
 After the presentation the full slides will be
available at
Vulnerabilities - Conclusion
 Exploiting PHP often like catching fish
from a barrel
 Code running on trusted host, in trusted
network but still cannot trust its
Finding the Holes
 File upload issues
– Change file upload fields to hidden fields
– Just try
 Hidden fields
– Often configuration variables
– Modify them
 Normal fields
– Try special characters, ‘/\:;’
Finding the Holes
 Getting the source:
– Open source – Full or modified
– IIS Holes
Unicode exploit
.htr hole
Translate: f hole
…. many more
– FTP to web server (anonymous)
Finding the Holes
 Getting the source:
– Non parsed backup files:
• .bak, .tmp, .old, .bac, .backup, .orig, .temp, .000,
.~1, .php~, etc.
– File upload PHP exploitation
 Spotting holes in source:
– Grep!
– Look for ‘vulnerable’ operations with variable
Finding the Holes
 Vulnerable operations:
– PHP Functions: include(), require(), eval(),
exec(), passthru(), ``, system(), popen(),
fopen(), readfile(), file()
– Variable functions:
$hello = “echo \”hi!\””; $hello();
– Variable dereferencing:
$hello = “confdir”; $$hello = “http://myhost”; echo “$confdir”;
Securing PHP
 Later versions of PHP are very configurable
 Drastic Measures:
– Set open_basedir
• Prevents any file open operations on files outside
specified directories
– register_globals off
• Protects environment from user pollution
• The ultimate protection
• Breaks 99.99% of existing scripts
Securing PHP
 Drastic Measures cont:
– safe_mode on
Heaps of restrictions
Restrict which commands can be executed
Disable functions, e.g exec(), system()
Restricts file access based on ownership
Kills file upload
Designed for use in ISP environments
Securing PHP
 Slightly less painful measures:
– display_errors off, log_errors on
• Prevent error messages giving clues as to how code
• Makes debugging hard
 Mostly painless measures:
– allow_url_fopen off
• Stops remote files functionality
• No more remote includes
Securing PHP – Future?
 Capabilities
– Defined once, enforced throughout script
 Taint Mode
– Tainted variables cannot be used in
• Include/Require Statements
• File Open Operations
• SQL Queries (maybe automatically filtered)
Securing Web Applications
 External Solutions:
– Use suEXEC for CGI under Apache
– SubDomain ( under
Securing Web Applications
 Programming Concepts
– Limit calls to external programs
– Pass all user input through metacharacter filter
Securing Web Applications
 Architecture
– Adopt client/server architecture in Web
– Server can rely on environment
– Server can limit trust in client
Web Languages
 The basic issue:
– Web languages attempt to make rapid
development as simple as possible by being
feature rich.
– This leads to security problems
• Functions do more than expected to do
• Programmers (Web Designers!) get lazy
– Security is largely a code quality issue
– Coders don’t want to give up ease for security
 Questions?
 SecureReality Web Site:

Breaking In Through The Front Door