Covering J2EE Security and WebLogic Topics

How to Protect Against CSRF Attacks

In Unconventional Warfare, I took a somewhat whimsical approach to describing the challenges of application security today. While the analogy was fun, the message was quite serious. The take-away was that we as developers need to know more about the latest techniques used to subvert our applications.

With this post, I’m going to show you a simple but eye-opening CSRF exploit against WebLogic console. We’ll add a user to your WebLogic security realm without any outward indication that it happened.

Before we go on, it’s important to know what CSRF is. CSRF stands for Cross-Site Request Forgery. Essentially, a malicious website takes advantage of another website’s trust in the user.

I’m just learning about vulnerabilities like CSRF but it occurred to me that administrators would be likely targets for such attacks. Could I compromise my WebLogic server? Turns out I could, and it took about five minutes for me to figure out how to add a user with CSRF. The significance of this paragraph is that someone who has a cursory knowledge of CSRF can cause considerable damage.

As I researched CSRF for this post, I learned that administrators have always been targeted. Also, there are many different ways to pull off the attack and it might be a multi-step process with Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) thrown in for good measure. It’s my intention that my simple demonstration of CSRF will stoke your interest in the subject enough to start defending against these attacks. I’ll supply some techniques for avoiding CSRF vulnerabilities in your applications as well as how to protect your WebLogic console.

OK, time for the demo. You’ll need the following things if you want to try this for yourself:

  • A WebLogic 8.1 domain running on your local machine (I tested against 8.1.4)
  • Your domain has to have the default realm name (myrealm)
  • Your domain has to have the default authenticator named DefaultAuthenticator
  • Your server needs to run on port 80 or 7001

That’s it. You can just take the defaults when you configure the domain and everything will be as required.

With the pre-requisites in place, let’s add the user. Perform these steps:

  1. Fire up WebLogic
  2. Sign into the console
  3. In the same browser session as your console, navigate to my CSRF demo page

See the helpful web page? Now, go back to the console and examine your users. Did you add the user named SpongebobWasHere? I didn’t think so…

The user SpongebobWasHere was added by a CSRF exploit

Perhaps you are wary of going to my demo attack page. I don’t blame you. Security researcher sites don’t display “Best viewed with telnet to port 80” simply for the humor of it. Assuming you don’t want to telnet you have two other choices for seeing the user get added:

  1. Save the link to your machine, examine the contents, and then load that downloaded page in your browser when you’re satisfied that it’s safe
  2. Go to the URL below by copying and pasting it into your browser (I had to add spaces to get the long text to wrap so you’ll have to remove them)

http://localhost:7001/console/actions/security/DoCreateUserAction? cancelAction=%2Factions%2Fsecurity%2FListUsersAction%3F scopeMBean%3DSecurity%253AName%253Dmyrealm&realm= Security%3AName%3Dmyrealm&continueAction=%2Factions%2F security%2FDoEditUserAction%3FcancelAction%3D%252Factions %252Fsecurity%252FListUsersAction%253FscopeMBean%253DSecurity %25253AName%25253Dmyrealm%26realm%3DSecurity%253AName %253Dmyrealm%26provider%3DSecurity%253AName%253D myrealmDefaultAuthenticator&provider=Security%3AName%3D myrealmDefaultAuthenticator& wl_control_weblogic_management_security_User_Name= SpongebobWasHere&wl_control_weblogic_management_security_User_Password =password&dependentPassword_wl_control_weblogic_management_ security_User_Password=password

Change the port as required.

By the way, the URL above is the only “active” ingredient in the demo page. It serves as the source of an IMG tag. Essentially, the IMG tag issues a GET against the server running on localhost at the specified port. All of the parameters in the URL were gleaned from the HTML source of the console Add User page. The interesting stuff is at the end where I specifed the username and passwords.

The reason this exploit works is that the request to your WebLogic server came from YOUR browser. With YOUR cookies. In fact, if auditing is turned on, it looks like YOU did it.

So, there it is — a quick and easily understandable CSRF attack. I’m amazed at the ease with which this was done. Granted, I made several assumptions when crafting the URL regarding the names of things. Changing any one name would have defeated this particular attack, but a determined attacker might have employed other techniques to learn the names.

Protecting WebLogic Console from CSRF Exploits

Since WebLogic 8.1 console is vulnerable to CSRF, one solution is to change the name of the console. Another is to undeploy the console and use the scripting tools, instead. Hiding behind a firewall is not an option. Non-routable IPs are exploitable as you can see from the use of “localhost” in the URL above.

Yet another solution is to log out of the console before browsing anywhere else. This is probably a good habit for anything you need to log in to such as your bank’s web site.

What’s the likelihood that someone would do this particular exploit? Not very likely, but I believe it is possible even if your server is not on localhost. For example, an attacker might check your browser history and notice you’ve been to http://192.168.1.143/console. Hmmm…

Now, I don’t mean to pick on WebLogic console. From what I’ve read, MANY applications are vulnerable to CSRF. BEA might have fixed the problem in 9.x because I wasn’t able to duplicate my success there. So, either they fixed it or I didn’t craft the URL correctly.

Protecting Your Applications from CSRF Exploits

How can you prevent CSRF attacks in your applications? I was hoping you would ask!

First, know that checking the referrer or doing POST instead of GET won’t save you. To have a shot at preventing a CSRF attack, consider the following techniques:

  • Set a short session timeout
  • Use a token for forms
  • Re-authenticate the user or use a CAPTCHA for each important action
  • Have no XSS vulnerabilities

For more information, check out the sources below. From this list you can see that it’s a tall order to prevent CSRF attacks. However, the various techniques add up to hopefully raise the bar high enough to require a skilled attacker. That’s probably the best you can hope for since a skilled attacker will probably get in, anyway.

Further Reading

As I said earlier, I’m just learning this stuff and know enough to whip up the simple demo you’ve seen here. I encourage you to read more about this issue because there are excellent resources out there describing it much better than I can. Here’s a starter set: