Apache Infrastructure Team

Saturday Jun 09, 2012

The value of taint checks in CGI scripts

Consider the following snippet taken from a live CGI script running on the host that serves www.apache.org:

#!/usr/bin/perl

use strict;
use warnings;

print "Content-Type: text/html\n\n";
my $artifact = "/apache-tomee/1.0.1-SNAPSHOT/";
$artifact = $ENV{PATH_INFO} if $ENV{PATH_INFO};

$artifact = "/$artifact/";
$artifact =~ s,/+,/,g;
$artifact =~ s,[^a-zA-Z.[0-9]-],,g;
$artifact =~ s,\.\./,,g;

my $content = `wget -q -O - http://repository.apache.org/snapshots/org/apache/openejb$artifact`;
... 


Looks pretty good right?  Any questionable characters are removed from $artifact before exposing it to the shell via backticks... hmm, well turns out that's not so easy to determine.

The first warning sign that was given to the author of this script was that he hadn't enabled taint checks- if he had this is how things probably would have looked:

#!/usr/bin/perl -T

use strict;
use warnings;

print "Content-Type: text/html\n\n";
my $artifact = "/apache-tomee/1.0.1-SNAPSHOT/";
$artifact = $ENV{PATH_INFO} if $ENV{PATH_INFO};

$artifact = "/$artifact/";
$artifact =~ s,/+,/,g;
$artifact =~ m,^([a-zA-Z.[0-9]-]*)$, or die "Detainting regexp failed!";
$artifact = $1;
$artifact =~ s,\.\./,,g;

my $content = `wget -q -O - http://repository.apache.org/snapshots/org/apache/openejb$artifact`;
... 

Which doesn't look like much of a change, but the impact on the actual logic is massive: we've gone from a substitution that strips unwanted chars to a fully-anchored pattern that matches only a string full of wanted chars only, and dies on pattern match failure.  Sadly the developer in question did not heed this early advice.

As it turns out, there is a bug (well several) in the core pattern that renders the original substitution ineffective.  However the impact on the taint-checked version causes the detainting match to fail and renders the script harmless!  The practical difference is that instead of a script with a working remote shell exploit, we have script that serves no useful purpose.  To the Apache sysadmins this is a superior outcome, even though to the developer the original, essentially working script is preferable- worlds are colliding here, but guess who wins?

At the ASF the sysadmins almost invariably refuse to run perl or ruby CGI scripts without taint-checking enabled, and will always prefer CGI scripts be written in languages that support taint checks as they tend to enforce good practice in dealing with untrusted input.  This example, which is in fact one of the first times we've even considered allowing Apache devs to deploy non-download CGI scripts on the www.apache.org  server, serves as a useful reminder to Apache devs as to why using languages that support taint checks is an essential component of scripting on the web.



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