Application security, Firewalls, Routers

Real World WAF Detection and Bypass Made Easy

This post comes to you from Lamar Spells of


As more companies fall victim to hacks based on SQL Injection and as the regulatory environment becomes more stringent, more and more companies are implementing network-based Web Application Firewalls (WAFs). Shares of one Web Application Firewall maker Imperva (NYSE: IMPV) are up about 40% since their November 2011 initial public offering so the clear expectation is that this trend will continue. For end-users, deployment of WAF technology can be a serious mitigating control that enhances the security of their data. For penetration testers whose job it is to evaluate the effectiveness of security controls, the presence of a WAF can be a serious hindrance to productivity. So, as a penetration tester, how can you detect the presence of a network-based web application firewall and how can you bypass it?

The best way to detect the presence of a WAF is to understand what threats the WAF is trying to protect against and how it will behave when it detects the threat. Regulatory and audit frameworks almost always focus on protecting applications against the OWASP Top 10, so that?s a great place to start. That includes some fairly easy things to test like Cross Site Scripting (XSS) and SQL Injection. Some WAFs also, by virtue of their default policies, try to protect against e-mail collector robots, internet worms, content gathering ?leeches? and all sorts of other things. Typically, when a threat is detected, the WAF will behave by returning a standard error message of some sort to the user and by returning an HTTP response code of 200 (OK). Since the WAF provides an HTTP response code of ?OK?, the HTTP response code is really not useful in determining whether a WAF is present or not. This is done by design to foil automated scanners.

So, if the response code is always 200, how do you create an automated utility to detect the WAF? Submit multiple responses and track how the web server behaves under various conditions. Start by making a request that you know, with high probability, will be successful. This is typically a ?GET /? using the fully qualified domain name of the host you are testing. This should (hopefully) result in an HTTP response of 200. Make note the HTTP response along with the content length. Next, submit various requests that you would expect to fail if a WAF were present. Make note of the HTTP response codes and the content lengths. Compare the response codes and content length to the base case. Additionally, submit some requests that you would expect to generate 404 or other return codes if a WAF were not present. Capture the HTTP response codes and content lengths. By comparing the HTTP response codes and content lengths returned by the various tests with the base scenario, you should get a good indication of whether or not a WAF is present.

Fortunately, there are a couple of utilities to make the identification process easy. An excellent utility called waffit helps you identify the type of device present. This utility is available in BackTrack or here. If you find that you have an Imperva WAF, you can use the utility imperva-detect, available here
. This tool runs a baseline test plus five additional tests against a user-specified website using the method just described in order to give an indication of the likelihood of an Imperva WAF being present. Both tools operate on the principles described above. Waffit has the advantage of being more comprehensive in terms of devices supported; imperva-detect is fast (generally 2-3 seconds per host) and can be used to quickly validate coverage of a large environment that you know contains Imperva WAFs.

# ./
--- Testing [] for presence of application firewall ---
Test 0 - Good User Agent...
-- HTTP Return Code = 200
-- Content Size Downloaded = 385
Test 1 - Web Leech User Agent...
-- Size of content inconsistent versus Test 0 - application firewall possibly present
-- Details:  Test 0 Size = 385 Size Recvd = 764
Test 2 - E-mail Collector Robot User Agent Blocking...
-- Size of content inconsistent versus Test 0 - application firewall possibly present
-- Details:  Test 0 Size = 385 Size Recvd = 764
Test 3 - BlueCoat Proxy Manipulation Blocking...
-- HTTP Return Code = 200 -- expected 404 -- application firewall possibly present
Test 4 - Web Worm Blocking...
-- HTTP Reutrn Code  = 200 & downloaded content size is the same -- application firewall not detected
Test 5 - XSS Blocking...
-- HTTP Return Code = 200 -- while checking XSS blocking
--- Tests Finished on [] -- 4 out of 5 tests indicate Imperva application firewall present ---

So, now that you know (or suspect) a WAF is present, how do you bypass it? One solution would be simply to look for an easier target. You can perform an nmap scan of the target network looking for other IPs with services running on attractive ports (like 80 and 443) and then verify, using waffit and/or imperva-detect, which of those services have an application firewall protecting them. An unprotected IP represents a soft target that you may flag for additional exploitation.

Another solution makes use of the ciphers supported by the web server sitting behind the WAF. The network-based WAF typically acts as a ?man in the middle? positioned between the browser and the SSL session termination point. The WAF observes the key negotiation and, using the private keys stored within the WAF, performs decryption and inspection of SSL traffic before passing the still encrypted packets downstream to the web server or other SSL termination point.

Ephemeral mode Diffie-Hellman key-agreement protocols were designed to provide perfect forward secrecy to prevent man in the middle attacks. However, if the server or device performing the actual SSL session termination supports an ephemeral mode Diffie-Hellman key-agreement protocol, any device acting as a ?man in the middle? will be unable to decrypt the traffic. This is true because the WAF is unable to observe the key negotiation process when ephemeral mode Diffie-Hellman key agreement is used. Hence, if you can force the use of a cipher algorithm that uses an ephemeral mode Diffie-Hellman protocol for key agreement, your traffic should pass through the application firewall without being inspected.

A full list of SSL and TLS ciphers along with their OpenSSL equivalents can be found here. Depending on the cipher suite, the name of the ciphers supporting the Diffie-Hellman ephemeral mode should contain either ?EDH? or ?DHE? (for ?Ephemeral Diffie-Hellman? and ?Diffie-Hellman Ephemeral?, respectively). You can run the script included in the imperva-detect project to see exactly which ciphers your targeted server supports.

Other methods of bypass certainly exist, but require a great deal more manual effort than just described. Use the device type detected by waffit to search for bypass vulnerabilities specific to the device type detected.

Look for a weak protection profile. Since the WAF must be integrated with the application to function properly, there is always the chance that certain parameters or URLs are not included in the list of items the WAF has ?learned? or been programmed to enforce. Manually attempting to explore the limits of the WAF?s protection profile is time consuming, but may yield results depending on the skill of the security administrators who manage the device.

Use social engineering. Since security administrators must review any blocked transactions and adjust the rules accordingly, it is possible that entering a few seemingly innocent requests that are blocked may result in the loosening of a rule within the WAF profile. Use social engineering of the application support personnel to request a loosening of the input validation rules. Ask the application support personnel to contact the security administrators on your behalf because, after all, a ?valuable customer is being terribly inconvenienced? by all this ridiculous security. This may take a few days to succeed, but the skillfulness with which your request is made and your ability to convince support personnel of the burdensome nature of the controls may make your request successful.

Exploit organizational communication problems. If you have time or can schedule the engagement in advance, wait for an SSL certificate to near expiration or try to find one that just became valid. Since the SSL certificate must be loaded on the WAF, there is sometimes a lag time after a certificate change during which traffic can be uninspected. Depending on the organizational alignment or internal processes, this gap can be significant and may extend to several days or more of exposure.

Cause the organization to drop their defenses. Availability is easy to measure while confidentiality is more difficult. Since customers demand availability, organizations often prioritize availability above confidentiality. WAF devices are expensive and the task they perform is, by its nature, computationally expensive. For this reason, WAF resources tend to be oversubscribed in most environments and may represent a point of attack, especially when presented with computationally intensive tasks.

Network defenders: Here is how you stop this from happening.
1. Use nmap from an external IP to locate all the web servers within your IP range.
2. Use the waffit or imperva-detect tools to verify coverage of your environment.
3. If you find gaps, resolve them promptly.
4. Use the check_ciphers tool included in the imperva-detect project to make certain no EDH or DHE ciphers are supported in your environment.
5. Make sure that your protection profiles are complete and accurate for the applications you are protecting.
6. Review any newly learned URLs to make certain they are protected as soon as possible.
7. Think carefully before modifying a protection profile. It is better to block a few legitimate transactions than to open the door to SQLI or XSS.
8. Listen to user complaints or complaints from support but then see above. Be prepared with statistics to defend maintaining strict input validation controls.
9. Integrate yourself into the certificate management / replacement process. Ideally, you should have the new SSL certificate in place on the WAF before it is used to pass traffic.
10. Make certain your WAF resources are not unduly oversubscribed. If you are inspecting HTTPS traffic, explore the use of SSL accelerator devices.
11. Make certain that SSL renegotiation is disabled in your environment as this can be used to conduct a denial of service.

– Lamar Spells


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