Saturday, April 27, 2013

(Pentest Apache #3) - The Nature of # (%23) Character | Mod Security Rules in Apache

In my earlier posts, I have talked about  some interesting issues in deployed modules in Apache and insecure configuration. Refer here:

1. (Pentest Apache #1) Exposed Apache Axis - SOAP Objects
2. (Pentest Apache #2) - The Beauty of "%3F" and Apache's Inability | Wordpress | Mod Security

In this post, I want to discuss an interesting issue that occurs due to misconfigured rules in modsecurity. It is not a severe issue but it helps the penetration tester to gain some additional information about the server-side environment. For example:- directory listing.

In modsecurity, NE is stated as No Escape. One can explicitly configure the rules with this flag to implement no escaping. For example: "#" will be converted to "%23" if NE flag is not set.  If NE flag is set , the "#" character is treated as such and processed accordingly.  For more about modsecurity flags, refer here:  An example taken from there:

"RewriteRule ^/anchor/(.+) /bigpage.html#$1 [NE,R]. This example will redirect /anchor/xyz to /bigpage.html#xyz."

If escaping is not set properly in addition to some misconfiguration issue, it could result in unexpected behavior. I have noticed this flaw plethora of times during a number of security assessments. Let's have a look at one of the real time example:-

URL pattern 1:
URL pattern 2:

In case (1), if NE flag is set, the URL has to be processed with "#" character. In case (2), if NE flag is not set, the URL has to be processed with "%23", hexadecimal notation of the character "#". But due to misconfiguration, the behavior changes.

The tested server is : Apache/2.2.14. Actually, both URLs are responded with 200 OK responses. In case (1), the output results in directory listing. In case (2), the output results in content of the file

Case 1: Content-Type is text/html;charset=UTF-8

With # Character 
Case 2: Content-Type is text/plain

With %23 Character

It could be a one reason that file name starts with "#" character. But, the primary reason is the inability of Apache to understand misconfigured URL rewriting rules. Usually, if the URL rewriting rule fails, the web server should respond in 404 error message. In case of misconfiguration, the fall back step is the directory listing, atleast that what I have seen in practical scenarios (it could be different).

Inference: Play around with URL rewriting rules to detect bypasses which could result in gleaning additional information.


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