Thursday, December 28, 2017

The optimal way of rewarding duplicates (and why it sucks anyway)

Disclaimer: As it's the case for all blog posts, this is a personal blog post, and I'm not talking on behalf of my employer! This came up as a result of a discussion on Twitter, thanks to all that participated!

Sometimes, when looking for vulnerabilities, two or more security researchers will find the same bug. This is what we usually call "duplicates" from the vendor world, or sometimes "bug collisions", in a slightly different context.

In the context of vulnerability reward programs, most vendors won't issue a reward for the same vulnerability more than once. There are some exceptions on some programs (Google, GitHub, Tesla, among others), such as for cases when the reporter provides new information, or prompts action, but generally the rule is that if you are first, you get money, if you are second you get nothing. There are no silver medals.

This sucks for bug hunters, and makes them unhappy. The question is:

Can we create a fair and abuse-resistant payment model for duplicates?

I think the answer is yes, but at the cost of higher complexity, and significantly changing reward amounts. At the end, I'm not sure if it's worth it, as it incurs costs to everyone involved, and no significant monetary value in return. Let me explain.

First of all, paying full amount for every bug is easy to dismiss. People will abuse it, "hackers gonna hack". While I'm sure some wouldn't, many would, and I think we need to prevent abuse somehow. The risk here is not just financial, but it's also not fair for those that play nice, and security response teams are not meant to be detectives. So we need to prevent abuse.

The second most obvious way to tackle this problem is by splitting a reward. Let's say you are the first to find the bug, and you get a $1,000.00 reward. So far, so good.

Now, your neighbor reports the same bug a day after. What we could do, is to split the reward half way. But this creates a problem, this means that you can't be paid until the bug is fixed (which might take a long time!). In order to fix that, you could then just double the reward amount and pay twice, once when the bug is found, and once when the bug is fixed.

So, you get $1,000.00 as a reward first, and then you could potentially get another $1,000.00 if nobody else reports the same bug. When your neighbor finds and reports the same bug, you split the extra $1,000 half way, and you get $1,500 and your neighbor $500. This seems OK (twice as much expensive for the vendor, but easy to understand).

The problem is then, what happens when a third person finds the bug? Do you split three ways? First finder gets an $1,333, second $333, and third the last $333? Unfortunately this doesn't work and is trivial to abuse. If you want to get more money, you just report the bug 10 times (or tell 9 of your friends to report it for you), and you will get $900, and the original finder only $100 more.

This is easy to fix at the expense of reducing how much money everybody gets by splitting the individual payout in half every time a new duplicate is reported. For example:

  • Only one finder, $1000
  • Two finders, $500 each
  • Three finders, $250 each
  • ...

  • This removes the financial incentive to share the bug, as there's no more money to get by reporting the bug many times. If any, by doing that, you are losing money (and pretty much making everyone else lose money).

    The problem with this, is that the reward amounts decrease very quickly. Essentially by the 5th finder we are down to $62 (we started at $1,000!). This is particularly problematic because for programs with large communities of bug hunters, finding the same bug multiple times is very common. Getting a micro reward isn't really solving the problem.

    One way to psychologically change the way we treat this could be by making a lottery. Here's what I mean:

  • Only one finder, 100% chance of getting $1,000
  • Two finders, 50% chance of getting $1,000
  • Three finders, 33% chance of getting $750
  • Four finders, 25% chance of getting $500
  • Five finders, 20% chance of getting $313
  • Six finders, 16% chance of getting $188
  • Seven finders, 14% chance of getting $110

  • This helps at least to keep a reasonable reward even when there are more finders, as you can see below:

    However, practically this doesn't change much, 20% chance of getting $313 is technically the same as getting $62, and makes the rewards a game of chance (which is somewhat relevant for lawyers).

    So where does that leave us?

    I think the answer is that it's not worth it to reward all duplicates, because preventing the incentive for abuse makes things complicated, and sinks the reward amounts so quickly that it ends up not really being worth the effort.

    In conclusion, I think the most effective and friendly way to balance these (and other) risks for bug hunters is to just give the best bug hunters money before they start their research, to incentivize them to look for bugs and to compensate for finding non-rewardable vulnerabilities (such as duplicates). This is done at Google, and bug hunters love it :). If you have any other ideas, please let me know on the comments or on twitter!

    Saturday, February 11, 2017

    Vulnerability disclosure in an era of vulnerability rewards

    Note: This (and every post in this blog) is a personal blog post which expresses my personal opinion, and doesn't necessarily have to be the same opinion as my employer.

    Recently a few bug hunters have been taking rounds around the internet, looking for vulnerabilities and then contacting the website owner asking for money to disclose these to them. This prompted a discussion on Twitter which I thought was interesting.

    What we know today as Bug Bounty Programs (or more aptly named, Vulnerability Reward Programs), was started by some individuals proactively searching for vulnerabilities on their time for fun, curiosity or to evaluate the security of the software they use, and then reported them publicly or privately to the vendors. In many cases, these bug hunters got no permission or blessing from the vendor ahead of time, but vendors thought that activity was useful for them, so they decided to formalize it and launched reward programs. Fast forward to 2017 and tens of millions of dollars have been paid to thousands of bug hunters all around the world. That turned out pretty well, after all.

    However, this created a new normal, where bug hunters might expect to get paid for their research "per bug". And consequently, this also created an incentive for a few bug hunters to reach out to vendors without these programs with the purpose of hoping they can convince the vendor to start one. I don't think the bug hunters doing that are "bad people". What they are doing is slightly better than sitting on the bugs, or sharing them on private forums as it used to be the norm 10 years ago, and while I definitely think they should be disclosing the vulns and getting them fixed, I respect their freedom not to.

    That said, this left those vendors without reward programs (either for lack of money, or lack of support) at odds, in that they get the worst of both worlds. Little attention from skilled professional bug hunters and tons of attention by those that are just looking to make money out of it. And at least some of those vendors, ended up perceiving the behavior as extortion.

    This can result in a very dangerous "us vs. them" mentality. We shouldn't be fighting with each other on this. We shouldn't be calling each other scammers. That has the only side effect of burning bridges and alienating the bug hunters we need to work the most closely with.

    What I think we should do, as vendors, is politely and consistently decline every attempt to disclose issues in a way that is unfair or dangerous to users and other bug hunters. That means, if you can't give out rewards , don't cave in for those asking you for money by email. If you already have a reward program, don't bend or change the rules for these people.

    Instead, we, as vendors, have to invest to create a community of bug hunters around us. Many people are willing to invest time to help vendors, even when money is not involved. Reasons for that vary (they do it for the challenge, curiosity, or fun), and in exchange for their help, many of them often appreciate a "thank you" as appreciation, and recognition in some advisory. Vendors need to be welcoming, transparent and appreciative. This is important for any vendor that wants to collaborate with independent security researchers, even more important for those vendors just starting to build their community, and specially important for those that need a lot of help and don't have much resources.

    What I think we should do, as security researchers, is to not let a few vendors give the wrong impression of the rest of the industry. We should continue to be curious, and continue to advance the state of the art. However, just as jaywalking carries risks, we need to be careful on how we do this work. Pentesting without authorization is very risky, even more so if the testing causes damage, or gives the impression it was malicious.

    Instead, as researchers we should treat vendors as we would treat our neighbors and be respectful and polite, not doing to them what you wouldn't want them to do to you. I think 99.99% of researchers already behave like this, and the few that don't are just learning. Let's make sure we continue to grow our community with respect and humility and help those that are just starting.

    The security disclosure world of today is a lot better than how it was 10 to 20 years ago, and I'm glad to see such great relationships between vendors and security researchers. Let's keep on improving it 😊.

    Wednesday, February 08, 2017

    🤷 Unpatched (0day) jQuery Mobile XSS

    TL;DR - Any website that uses jQuery Mobile and has an open redirect is now vulnerable to XSS - and there's nothing you can do about it, there's not even patch  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ .

    jQuery Mobile is a cool jQuery UI system that makes building mobile apps easier. It does some part of what other frameworks like Ember and Angular do for routing. Pretty cool, and useful. Also vulnerable to XSS.

    While researching CSP bypasses a few months ago, I noticed that jQuery Mobile had this funky behavior in which it would fetch any URL in the location.hash and put it in innerHTML. I thought that was pretty weird, so decided to see if it was vulnerable to XSS.

    Turns out it is!

    The bug

    The summary is:

    1. jQuery Mobile checks if you have anything in location.hash.
    2. If your location.hash looks like a URL, it will try to set history.pushState on it, then it will do an XMLHttpRequest to it.
    3. Then it will just innerHTML the response.
    As a strange saving grace, actually, the fact that it tries to call history.pushState first, makes the attack a little bit harder to accomplish, since you can't set history.pushState to cross-origin URLs, so in theory this should be safe.

    But it isn't, because if you have any open redirect you suddenly are vulnerable to XSS. Since the open redirect would be same origin as far as history.pushState is concerned.

    So.. you want to see a demo, I'm sure. Here we go:
    The code is here (super simple).

    The disclosure

    Fairly simple bug, super easy to find! I wouldn't be surprised if other people had found out about this already. But I contacted jQuery Mobile, and told them about this, and explained the risk.

    The jQuery Mobile team explained that they consider the Open Redirect to be the vulnerability, and not their behavior of fetching and inlining, and that they wouldn't want to make a change because that might break existing applications. This means that there won't be a patch as far as I have been informed. The jQuery mobile team suggests to 403 all requests made from XHR that might result in a redirect.

    This means that every website that uses jQuery Mobile, and has any open redirect anywhere is vulnerable to XSS.

    Also, as a bonus, even if you use a CSP policy with nonces, the bug is still exploitable today by stealing the nonce first. The only type of CSP policy that is safe is one that uses hashes or whitelists alone.

    The victim

    jQuery Mobile is actually pretty popular! Here's a graph of Stack Overflow questions, over time.

    And here's a graph of jQuery Mobile usage statistics over time as well:

    You can recreate these graphs here and here. So, we can say we are likely to see this in around 1 or 2 websites that we visit every week. Pretty neat, IMHO.

    I don't know how common are open redirects, but I know that most websites have them. Google doesn't consider them vulnerabilities (disclaimer, I work in Google - but this is a personal blog post), but OWASP does (disclaimer, I also considered them to be vulnerabilities in 2013). So, in a way, I don't think jQuery Mobile is completely wrong here on ignoring this.

    Now, I anyway wanted to quantify how common it is to have an open redirect, so I decided to go to Alexa and list an open redirect for some of the top websites. Note that open redirect in this context includes "signed" redirects, since those can be used for XSS.

    Here's a list from Alexa:
    1. Google
    2. YouTube
    3. Facebook
    4. Baidu
    5. Yahoo
    I also thought it would be interesting to find an open redirect on jQuery's website, to see if a random site and not just the top might have one, and while I did find they use Trac which has an Open Redirect, I wasn't able to test it because I don't have access to their bug tracker =(.


    One opportunity for further research, if you have time in your hands is to try to find a way to make this bug work without the need of an Open Redirect. I tried to make it work, but it didn't work out.

    In my experience, Open Redirects are very common, and they are also a common source of bugs (some of them cool). Perhaps we should start fixing Open Redirects. Or perhaps we should be more consistent on not treating them as vulnerabilities. Either way, for as long as we have this disagreement in our industry, we at least get to enjoy some XSS bugs.

    If you feel motivated to do something about this, the jQuery team suggested to send a pull request to their documentation to warn developers of this behavior, so I encourage you to do that! Or just help me out spread the word of this bug

    Thanks for reading, and I hope you liked this! If you have any comments please comment below or on Twitter. =)

    Wednesday, January 25, 2017

    Fighting XSS with 🛡 Isolated Scripts

    TL;DR: Here's a proposal for a new way to fight Cross-Site Scripting vulnerabilities called Isolated Scripts. You have an open-source prototype to play with the idea. Please let me know what you think!


    In the aftermath of all the Christmas' CSP bypasses, a discussion came up with @mikewest and @fgrx on the merits of using the Isolated Worlds concept (explained below) as a security mitigation to fight XSS. It seemed like an interesting problem, so I spent some time looking into it.

    The design described below would allow you (a web developer) to defend some of your endpoints against XSS with just two simple steps:
    1. Set a new cookie flag (isolatedScript=true).
    2. Set a single HTTP header (Isolated-Script: true).
    And that's it. With those two things you could defend your applications against XSS. It is similar to Suborigins but Isolated Scripts defends against XSS even within the same page!

    And that's not it, another advantage is that it also mitigates third-party JavaScript code (such as Ads, Analytics, etcetera). Neat, isn't it?


    The design of Isolated Scripts consists of three components that work together to deliver the Isolated Scripts proposal.
    1. Isolated Worlds
    2. Isolated Cookies
    3. Secret HTML
    I describe each one of them below and then show you the demo.

    🌍 Isolated Worlds

    Isolated Worlds is a concept most prominently used today in Chrome Extensions user scripts, and Greasemonkey scripts in Firefox - essentially, they allow JavaScript code to get a "view" over the document's DOM but in an isolated JavaScript runtime. Let me explain:

    Let's say that there is a website with the following code:

    The Isolated World will have access to document.getElementById("text") but it will not have access to window.variable. That is, the only thing that both scripts share is an independent view of the HTML's DOM. This isolation is very important, because user scripts have elevated privileges, for example, they can trigger XMLHttpRequests requests to any website and read their responses.

    If it wasn't for the Isolated World, then the page could do something like this to execute code in the user script, and attack the user:
    document.getElementById = function() {
    In this way, the Isolated World allows us to defend our privileged execution context from the hostile user execution context. Now, the question is: Can we use the same design to protect trusted scripts from Cross-Site Scripting vulnerabilities?

    That is, instead of focusing on preventing script execution as a mitigation (which we've found out to be somewhat error prone), why don't we instead focus on differentiating trusted scripts from untrusted scripts?

    The idea of having privileged and unprivileged scripts running in the same DOM is not new, in fact, there are a few implementations out there (such as Mario Heiderich's Iceshield, and Antoine Delignat-Lavaud Defensive JS), but their implementation required rewriting code to overcome the hostile attacker. In Isolated Worlds, normal JavaScript code just works.

    So, that is the idea behind Isolated Scripts - provide a mechanism for a web author to mark a specific script as trusted, which the browser will then run in an Isolated World.
    An easy way to implement this in a demo is by actually reusing the Isolated Worlds implementation in Chrome Extensions, and simply install a user script for every script with the right response header.

    🍪 Isolated Cookies

    Now that we have a script running in a trusted execution context, we need a way for the web server to identify requests coming from it. This is needed because the server might only want to expose some sensitive data to Isolated Scripts.

    The easiest way to do so would be simply by adding a new HTTP request header similar to the Origin header (we could use Isolated-Script: foo.js for example). Another alternative is to create a new type of cookie that is only sent when the request comes from a Isolated Script. This alternative is superior to the HTTP header for two reasons:
    1. It is backwards compatible, browsers that don't implement it will just send the cookie as usual.
    2. It can work in conjunction with Same-site cookies (which mitigates CSRF as well).
    To clarify, the web server would do this:
    Set-Cookie: SID=XXXX; httpOnly; secure; SameSite=Strict; isolatedScript

    And the browser will then process the cookie as usual, except that it will only include it in requests if they are made by the Isolated Script. And browsers that don't understand the new flag will always include them.

    An easy way to implement this in a demo is to instead of using flags, using a special name in the cookie, and refuse to send the cookie except for cases when the request comes from the isolated script.
    One idea that Devdatta proposed was to make use of cookie prefixes, which could also protect the cookies from clobbering attacks.

    🙈 Secret HTML

    What we have now is a mechanism for a script to have extra privileges, and be protected from hostile scripts by running in an isolated execution context, however, the script will, of course want to display the data to the user, and if the script writes it to the DOM, the malicious script would immediately be able to read it. So, for that, we need a way for the Isolated Script to write HTML that the hostile scripts can't read.

    While this primitive might sound new, it actually already exists today! It's already possible for JavaScript code to write HTML that is visible to the user, but unavailable to the DOM. There are at least two ways to do this:
    1. Creating an iframe and then navigating the iframe to a data:text/html URL (it doesn't work in Firefox because they treat data: URLs as same-origin).
    2. Creating an iframe with a sandbox attribute without the allow-same-origin flag (works in Chrome and Firefox).
    So, to recap, we can already create HTML nodes that are inaccessible to the parent page. The only issue left is perhaps how to make it easily backwards compatible. So we have two problems left:
    • CSS wouldn't be propagated down to the iframe, but to solve this problem we can propagate the calculated style down to the iframe's body, which will allow us to ensure that the text would look the same as if it was in the parent page (note, however that selectors wouldn't work inside it).
    • Events wouldn't propagate to the parent page, but to solve that problem we could just install a simple script that forwards all events from the iframe up to the parent document.
    With this, the behavior would be fairly similar to the secret HTML but without providing a significant information leak on to the hostile script. 
    An easy way to implement this in a demo is to create a setter function on innerHTML, and whenever the isolated script tries to set innerHTML we instead create a sandboxed iframe with the content, to which we postMessage the CSS and the HTML and a message channel that can be used to propagate events up the iframe. To avoid confusing other code dependencies, we could create this iframe inside of a closed Shadow DOM.
    One potential concern for the design of this feature that Malte brought up was that depending on the implementation this could potentially mess up with developer experience, as some scripts most likely assume that code in the DOM is reachable (eg, via querySelector, getElementsByTagName or otherwise). This is very important, and possibly the most valuable lesson to take - rather than having security folks like me design APIs with weird restrictions, we should also be asking authors what they need to do their work.


    Alright! So now that I explained the concept and how it was implemented in the demo, it's time for you to see it in action.

    First of all, to emulate the browser behavior you need to install a chrome extension (don't worry, no scary permissions), and then just go to the "vulnerable website" and try to steal the contents of the XHR response! If you can steal them, you win a special Isolated Scripts 👕 T-Shirt my eternal gratitude 🙏 (and, of course 🎤 fame & glory).

    So, let's do it!
    1. Install Chrome Extension
    2. Go to Proof of Concept website
    There are XSS everywhere on the page (both DOM and reflected), and I disabled the XSS filter to make your life easier. I would be super interested to learn about different ways to break this!

    Note that there are probably implementation bugs that wouldn't be an issue in a real browser implementation, but please let me know about them anyway (either on twitter or on the comments below), as while they don't negate the design, they are nevertheless something we should keep in mind and fix for the purpose of making this as close to reality as possible.

    In case you need it, the source code of the extension is here and the changes required to disable CSP and enable Isolated Scripts instead is here.

    🔍 Analysis

    Now, I'm obviously biased on this, since I already invested some time on this idea, but I think it's at least promising and has some potential. That said, I want to do an analysis on it's value and impact to avoid over-promising. I will use the framework to measure web security mitigations that I described in my previous blog post (but if you haven't read it, don't worry, I explain this below).


    Moderation stands for: How much are we limiting the impact of the problem?

    In this case, the impact is extremely easy to measure (modulo implementation flaws).
    Any secret data that is protected with Isolated Cookies is only exposed to Isolated Scripts. And any data touched by Isolated Scripts is hidden from XSS. So, the web author gets to decide the degree of moderation it requires.
    One interesting caveat to this that Mario brought up, is that conducting phishing attacks using XSS would still be possible, and is very likely to result in compromise with a tiny bit of social engineering.


    Minimization stands for: How much are we minimizing the number of problems?

    We can also measure this. Most XSS, including content sniffing and plugin-based SOP bypasses (even some types of universal XSS bugs!) can be mitigated with Isolated Scripts, but some types of DOM XSS aren't.
    The DOM XSS that are not mitigated by Isolated Scripts, are, for example, Angular Template Injections, and eval()-based XSS - that is because they still inherit the capabilities of the Isolated Script.
    I would love to hear of any other types of bugs that wouldn't be mitigated by Isolated Scripts.


    Substitution stands for: How much are we replacing risks with safer alternatives?

    We can also quickly measure how much we are replacing the current risks with Isolated Scripts. In particular, adoption seems very easy although it has some problems:
    1. JavaScript code hosted in CDNs can't run in the Isolated World. This is working as intended, but also might limit the ease of deployment. One easy way to fix this is to use ES6 import statements.
    2. Code that expects to have access to "secret content" (like advertising, for example) won't be able to do so anymore and might fail in unexpected ways (note, however that in a browser implementation it might make sense to actually give access to the secret HTML to the Isolated script, if possible).
    I would be super interested to hear any other problems you think developers might find in adoption.


    Simplification stands for: How much are we removing problems, rather than adding complexity?

    Generally, we are adding complexity and removing complexity, and it's somewhat subjective to decide whether they cancel each other out or not.
    • On one hand, we are removing complexity by requiring all interactions with secret data to happen through a single funnel.
    • On the other hand, by adding yet another cookie flag and a new condition for script execution, and a new type of DOM isolation we are making the web platform more difficult to understand.
    I honestly think that we are making this a bit more complicated. Not as much as other mitigations, but slightly so. I would be interested to hear any arguments on how "bad" this complexity would be for the web platform.


    Thank you so much for reading so far, and I hope you found reading this as interesting as I found writing it.

    I think a good next step from here is to hear more feedback on the proposal (from both, authors, browsers and hackers!), and perhaps identify ways we can simplify it further, ways to break it, and ways to make it more developer friendly.

    If you have any ideas, please leave comments below or on twitter (or you can also email me).

    Until next time 😸

    Monday, January 23, 2017

    Measuring web security mitigations

    Summary: This past weekend I spent some time implementing a prototype for a web security mitigation, and I also spent some time thinking whether it was worth implementing as a web platform feature or not. In this blog post, I want to share how I approached the problem, which I hope you find useful, and to hopefully get your feedback about it too.

    I've seen amazing progress on controlling the effects of XSS by adopting inherent safety on software engineering (a term which means focusing on completely eliminating the hazard) and I'm fairly confident that is today's most effective way to tackle it. However, there is always value in evaluating other types of controls beyond pure prevention - perhaps moving on to ways to minimize or contain its risk.

    The way I see the problem is that the value of a mitigation can be measured by:
    • Impact - How many vulnerabilities was this mitigation designed to control?
    • Difficulty - What is the cost to adopt this mitigation on a system?
    Measuring difficulty is somewhat easy, one should just try to apply the mitigation to real-life applications and see how difficult it is, however, measuring impact can be really difficult on a complex system.

    The way this problem was approached in other fields was by measuring mitigations and controls across four metrics (wiki):
    • Moderation - How much are we limiting the impact of the problem.
    • Minimization - How much are we minimizing the number of problems.
    • Substitution - How much are we replacing risks with safer alternatives.
    • Simplification - How much are we removing problems, rather than adding complexity.
    So, a naive way to look at this problem, is to evaluate the impact a mitigation has across these four metrics.

    For example, I am a fan of Suborigins, an idea that aims to limit the impact a single XSS vulnerability can have by creating a more fine-grained concept of an origin. Suborigins is a good example of Moderation. It does not reduce the number of XSS vulnerabilities, it just makes it so that their impact is significantly reduced. On the other hand, we have the Angular sandbox - it aimed to limit the impact of the problem, but doing so effectively was extremely difficult, and eventually, the sandbox was removed completely.

    Another good example is Minimization, and a great example of this is X-Content-Type-Options and X-Frame-Options. These are HTTP headers that allow a site owner to opt-out of behavior that can cause clickjacking, or some types of content sniffing vulnerabilities. If a website owner deploys these headers across their whole website then the amount of places that are likely to be affected can be drastically reduced. On the other hand, we have browser XSS filters and Web Application Firewalls. After many years, I think our industry reached consensus that they are not real security boundaries, and we largely stopped considering bypasses as security vulnerabilities.

    Then we have mitigations that website owners can take that can Substitute a risky behavior with a less risky alternative. A good example for this is the use of JSON.parse instead of eval(). By providing a safe alternative to parse JSON content, the browsers have allowed website developers to write code that parses structured data without having to fully trust the data provider. On the other hand, we have DOM APIs (createElement / setAttribute / appendChild) as a replacement for innerHTML. While the use of DOM APIs is really safer, it's also so much more difficult and inconvenient that developers just don't use it - if the alternative is not easy to adopt, developers just won't adopt it.

    And finally, we reach Simplification. A great example of a good simple API are httpOnly cookies, it does what it says, it restricts cookies so that they are available over HTTP only, and not JavaScript making credential stealing (and persistence) really hard in many cases. On the other hand, Ian Hixie eloquently explained the complexity problem with CSP back in 2009:
    First, let me state up front some assumptions I'm making:
    • Authors will rely on technologies that they perceive are solving their problems,
    • Authors will invariably make mistakes, primarily mistakes of omission,
    • The more complicated something is, the more mistakes people will make. 
    I think a valuable lesson (in retrospect) is that we should aim for baby steps (like httpOnly) that provide obvious simple benefits, and then build up on that, rather than big complex systems with dubious security benefits.

    And that's it =) - The purpose of this blog post is not to make a scorecard of different mitigations and their merits, but rather to propose a common language and framework for us to discuss whether a mitigation is valuable or not. Hopefully, so that we can better focus our efforts on those that make the most sense for the internet.

    Thanks for reading, and please let me know what you think below or on twitter!

    Tuesday, December 27, 2016

    How to bypass CSP nonces with DOM XSS 🎅

    TL;DR - CSP nonces aren't as effective as they seem to be against DOM XSS. You can bypass them in several ways. We don't know how to fix them. Maybe we shouldn't.

    Thank you for visiting. This blog post talks about CSP nonce bypasses. It starts with some context, continues with how to bypass CSP nonces in several situations and concludes with some commentary. As always, this blog post is my personal opinion on the subject, and I would love to hear yours.

    My relationship with CSP, "it's complicated"

    I used to like Content-Security-Policy. Circa 2009, I used to be really excited about it. My excitement was high enough that I even spent a bunch of time implementing CSP in JavaScript in my ACS project (and to my knowledge this was the first working CSP implementation/prototype). It supported hashes, and whitelists, and I was honestly convinced it was going to be awesome! My abstract started with "How to solve XSS [...]".

    But one day one of my friends from (WHK) pointed out that ACS (and CSP by extension) could be trivially circumvented using JSONP. He pointed out that if you whitelist a hostname that contains a JSONP endpoint, you are busted, and indeed there were so many, that I didn't see an easy way to fix this. My heart was broken.💔

    Fast-forward to 2015, when Mario Heiderich made a cool XSS challenge called "Sh*t, it's CSP!", where the challenge was to escape an apparently safe CSP with the shortest payload possible. Unsurprisingly, JSONP made an appearance (but also Angular and Flash). Talk about beating a dead horse.

    And then finally in 2016 a reasonably popular paper called "CSP Is Dead, Long Live CSP!" came out summarizing the problems highlighted by WHK and Mario after doing an internet-wide survey of CSP deployments, performed by Miki, Lukas, Sebastian and Artur. The conclusion of the paper was that CSP whitelists were completely broken and useless. At least CSP got a funeral , I thought.

    However, that was not it. The paper, in return, advocated for the use of CSP nonces instead of whitelists. A bright future for the new way to do CSP!

    When CSP nonces were first proposed, my concern with them was that their propagation seemed really difficult. To solve this problem, dominatrixss-csp back in 2012 made it so that all dynamically generated script nodes would work by propagating the script nonces with it's dynamic resource filter. This made nonce propagation really simple. And so, this exact approach was proposed in the paper, and named strict-dynamic, now with user-agent support, rather than a runtime script as dominatrixss-csp was. Great improvement. We got ourselves a native dominatrixss!

    This new flavor of CSP, proposed to ignore whitelists completely, and rely solely on nonces. While the deployment of CSP nonces is harder than whitelists (as it requires server-side changes on every single page with the policy), it nevertheless seemed to propose real security benefits, which were clearly lacking on the whitelist-based approach. So yet again, this autumn, I was reasonably optimistic of this new approach. Perhaps there was a way to make most XSS actually *really* unexploitable this time. Maybe CSP wasn't a sham after all!

    But this Christmas, as-if it was a piece of coal from Santa, Sebastian Lekies pointed out what in my opinion, seems to be a significant blow to CSP nonces, almost completely making CSP ineffective against many of the XSS vulnerabilities of 2016.

    A CSS+CSP+DOM XSS three-way

    While CSP nonces indeed seem resilient against 15-years-old XSS vulnerabilities, they don't seem to be so effective against DOM XSS. To explain why, I need to show you how web applications are written now a days, and how that differs from 2002.

    Before, most of the application logic lived in the server, but in the past decade it has been moving more and more to the client. Now a days, the most effective way to develop a web application is by writing most of the UI code in HTML+JavaScript. This allows, among other things for making web applications offline-ready, and provides access to an endless supply of powerful web APIs.

    And now, newly developed applications still have XSS, the difference is that since a lot of code is written in JavaScript, now they have DOM XSS. And these are precisely the types of bugs that CSP nonces can't consistently defend against (as currently implemented, at least).

    Let me give you three examples (non-exhaustive list, of course) of DOM XSS bugs that are common and CSP nonces alone can't defend against:
    1. Persistent DOM XSS when the attacker can force navigation to the vulnerable page, and the payload is not included in the cached response (so need to be fetched).
    2. DOM XSS bugs where pages include third-party HTML code (eg, fetch(location.pathName).then(r=>r.text()).then(t=>body.innerHTML=t);)
    3. DOM XSS bugs where the XSS payload is in the location.hash (eg, https://victim/xss#!foo?payload=).
    To explain why, we need to travel back in time to 2008 (woooosh!). Back in 2008, Gareth Heyes, David Lindsay and I made a small presentation in Microsoft Bluehat called CSS - The Sexy Assassin. Among other things, we demonstrated a technique to read HTML attributes purely with CSS3 selectors (which was coincidentally rediscovered by WiSec and presented with kuza55 on their 25c3 talk Attacking Rich Internet Applications a few months later).

    The summary of this attack is that it's possible to create a CSS program that exfiltrates the values of HTML attributes character-by-character, simply by generating HTTP requests every time a CSS selector matches, and repeating consecutively. If you haven't seen this working, take a look here. The way it works is very simple, it just creates a CSS attribute selector of the form:


    And then, once we get a match, repeat with:

    Until it exfiltrates the complete attribute.

    The attack for script tags is very straightforward. We need to do the exact same attack, with the only caveat of making sure the script tag is set to display: block;.

    So, we now can extract a CSP nonce using CSS and the only thing we need to do so is to be able to inject multiple times in the same document. The three examples of DOM XSS I gave you above permit exactly just that. A way to inject an XSS payload multiple times in the same document. The perfect three-way.

    Proof of Concept

    Alright! Let's do this =)

    First of all, persistent DOM XSS. This one is troubling in particular, because if in "the new world", developers are supposed to write UIs in JavaScript, then the dynamic content needs to come from the server asynchronously.

    What I mean by that is that if you write your UI code in HTML+JavaScript, then the user data must come from the server. While this design pattern allows you to control the way applications load progressively, it also makes it so that loading the same document twice can return different data each time.

    Now, of course, the question is: How do you force the document to load twice!? With HTTP cache, of course! That's exactly what Sebastian showed us this Christmas.

    A happy @slekies wishing you happy CSP holidays! Ho! ho! ho! ho!
    Sebastian explained how CSP nonces are incompatible with most caching mechanisms, and provided a simple proof of concept to demonstrate it. After some discussion on twitter, the consequences became quite clear. In a cool-scary-awkward-cool way.

    Let me show you with an example, let's take the default Guestbook example from the AppEngine getting started guide with a few modifications that add AJAX support, and CSP nonces. The application is simple enough and is vulnerable to an obvious XSS but it is mitigated by CSP nonces, or is it?

    The application above has a very simple persistent XSS. Just submit a XSS payload (eg, <H1>XSS</H1>) and you will see what I mean. But although there is an XSS there, you actually can't execute JavaScript because of the CSP nonce.

    Now, let's do the attack, to recap, we will:

    1. with CSS attribute reader.
    2. with the CSP nonce.

    Stealing the CSP nonce will actually require some server-side code to keep track of the bruteforcing. You can find the code here, and you can run it by clicking the buttons above.

    If all worked well, after clicking "Inject the XSS payload", you should have received an alert. Isn't that nice? =). In this case, the cache we are using is the BFCache since it's the most reliable, but you could use traditional HTTP caching as Sebastian did in his PoC.

    Other DOM XSS

    Persistent DOM XSS isn't the only weakness in CSP nonces. Sebastian demonstrated the same issue with postMessage. Another endpoint that is also problematic is XSS through HTTP "inclusion". This is a fairly common XSS vulnerability that simply consists on fetching some user-supplied URL and echoing it back in innerHTML. This is the equivalent of Remote File Inclusion for JavaScript. The exploit is exactly the same as the others.

    Finally, the last PoC of today is one for location.hash, which is also very common. Maybe the reason is because of IE quirks, but many websites have to use the location hash to implement history and navigation in a single-page JavaScript client. It even has a nickname "hashbang". In fact, this is so common that every single website that uses jQuery Mobile has this "feature" enabled by default, whether they like it or not.

    Essentially, any website that uses hashbang for internal navigation is as vulnerable to reflected XSS as if CSP nonces weren't there to being with. How crazy is that! Take a look at the PoC here (Chrome Only - Firefox escapes location.hash).


    Wow, this was a long blog post.. but at least I hope you found it useful, and hopefully now you will be able to understand a bit better the real effectiveness of CSP, maybe learn a few browser tricks, and hopefully got some ideas for future research.

    Is CSP preventing any vulns? Yes, probably! I think all the bugs reported by GOBBLES in 2002 should be preventable with CSP nonces.

    Is CSP a panacea? No, definitely not. It's coverage and effectiveness is even more fragile than we (or at least I) originally thought.

    Where do we go from here?
    • We could try to lock CSP at runtime, as Devdatta proposed.
    • We could disallow CSS3 attribute selectors to read nonce attributes.
    • We could just give up with CSP. 💩
    I don't think we should give up.. but I also can't stop wondering whether all this effort we spend on CSP could be better used elsewhere - specially since this mechanism is so fragile it runs the real risk of creating an illusion of security where it does not exist. And I don-t think I'm alone in this assessment.. I guess time will tell.

    Anyway, happy holidays, everyone! and thank you for reading. If you have any feedback, or comments please comment below or on Twitter!

    Hasta luego!

    Saturday, December 10, 2016

    Vulnerability Pricing

    What is the right price for a security vulnerability?

    TL;DR: Vendors should focus on vulnerabilities, not on exploits. Vulnerabilities should be priced based on how difficult they are to find, not just on their exploitability.

    I've been searching for an answer to this question for a while now. And this blog post is my attempt at answering it from my personal opinion.

    The first answer is the economics from the security researchers perspective. Given that vendors do bug bounties as a way to interact with and give back to the security community, the rewards are mostly targeted towards compensating and showing appreciation. As a result, for these researchers, getting 5k USD for what they did over a few days as a research project or personal challenge is pretty neat.

    In contrast, the "grey market" for those looking for vulnerabilities to exploit them (let's call them "exploiters"), the priorities are focused around the vulnerability reliability and stability.

    As an "exploiter", you want good, simple, dumb, reliable bugs. For bug hunters, finding these *consistently* is difficult. It's not about giving yourself a challenge to find a bug in Chrome this month, but rather you seek to be able to create a pipeline of new bugs every month and if possible, even grow the pipeline over time. This is way more expensive than "bug hunting for fun".

    Now, of course, there is an obvious profit opportunity here. Why not buy the bugs from those security researchers that find them in their spare time for fun, and resell them to "exploiters" for 10x the price? Well, that happens! Bug brokers do precisely that. So what happens is that then the prices from these "bug brokers" are just limited by how much the "exploiters" want to pay for them (which is a lot, more on that below).

    However, and very importantly. We haven't discussed the cost of going from vulnerability to exploit. Depending on the vulnerability type, that might either be trivial (for some design/logic flaw issues) or very difficult (for some memory corruption issues).

    Now, surprisingly, this key difference might give vendors a fighting chance. Software vendors in their mission to make their software better, actually don't care (or at least shouldn't care) about the difficulty to write a reliable exploit. Vendors want the vulnerability to fix it, learn from it, and find ways to prevent it from happening again.

    This means that a software vendor should be able to get and find value from a vulnerability immediately, while if you wanted to make an exploit and sell it to those that want to exploit it, that would cost a significant amount of additional research and effort if there are a lot of mitigations along the way (sandboxes, isolation, etc).

    So, it seems that the vendor's best chance in the "vendor" vs. "exploiter" competition is twofold: (1) to focus on making exploits harder and more expensive to write, and  (2) to focus on making vulnerabilities as profitable to find and to report as possible. With the goal that eventually the cost of "weaponizing" a vulnerability is higher than the cost for finding the next bug.

    The second answer to this question is the economics from the "exploiters" and the vendors perspective.

    For the vendors, software engineering is so imperfect that if you have a large application, you will have a lot of bugs and you will introduce more the more you code.

    So for software vendors, learning of a lot of vulnerabilities isn't as valuable as preventing those many from happening in the first place. In other words, being notified of a vulnerability is not useful except if that knowledge is used to prevent the next one from happening.

    Prices then (for vendors) should be, first of all, set to match the traffic these vendors can handle not just the response but the corresponding remediation work. So if the vendor has 2 full time engineers staffed to respond to security vulnerabilities, the prices should be set to approximately 2 full time engineers time.

    And then, on top of that, as many engineering resources as possible should be focused on prevention (to make vulnerabilities harder to introduce), optimizing processes (to be able to handle a larger number of reports), and finally making exploits harder to write (to make finding the next bug cheaper than writing an exploit).

    For the "exploiters", if they didn't have these vulnerabilities, their alternative would be to do dangerous and expensive human intelligence operations. Bribing, spying, interrogating, sabotaging etc.. all of these expensive and limited by the amount of people you can train, the amount of assets you can turn, and the amount of money they will ask for, and then your ability to keep all of this secret. Human intelligence is really very expensive.

    On the other hand, they could use these security holes - super attractive capabilities that allow them to spy on those they want to spy on, reducing (or sometimes eliminating) the need for any of the human intelligence operations and their associated risks. How can it get better than that?

    So they have the budget and ability to pay large sums of money. However, the vulnerability market isn't as efficient as it should be for the larger price to matter as much.

    What the market inefficiency means is that if someone can make $X00,000 a year by just finding vulnerabilities (and ignoring the exploit writing), then the risk of spending a month or two writing a reliable exploit, it's at the cost of the lost opportunity on the would have been found vulnerabilities. And vendors could be able to take advantage of this opportunity.

    In conclusion, it seems to me like the optimal way to price vulnerabilities for vendors is to do so based on:
    (1) Identifying those vulnerabilities in the critical path of an exploit.
    (2) Ignore mitigations as much as possible, for the purpose of vulnerability reward decisions.

    And that will only have the intended effect if:
    (a) Vendors have to have a proper investment in remediation, prevention and mitigation, as otherwise one doesn't get any value of buying these vulnerabilities.
    (b) Our reliance on requiring full PoCs from security researchers will need to change if we want to get vulnerabilities to learn from them.

    Thank you for reading, and please comment below or on Twitter if you disagree with anything or have any comments.