iDefense Security Advisory 01.09.06: Multiple Vendor mod_auth_pgsql Format String Vulnerability Jan 09 2006 09:26PM
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Multiple Vendor mod_auth_pgsql Format String Vulnerability

iDefense Security Advisory 01.09.06
January 09, 2006


The mod_auth_pgsql apache module allows user authentication against
information stored in a PostgreSQL database. More information can be
found at the following site:



Remote exploitation of a format string vulnerability in multiple
versions of the mod_auth_pgsql authentication module for the Apache
httpd could allow the execution of arbitrary code in the context of the

The mod_auth_pgsql module for the Apache httpd is a third party
authentication module which allows authentication details to be stored
in a PostgreSQL database. Although this is a third party module, it is
available as a package for several distributions, including Red Hat
Linux, Debian GNU/Linux and FreeBSD.

Due to a design error, many of the logging functions in this module take
user supplied values as input to the format specifier. An example of
this is shown below:

ap_log_rerror(APLOG_MARK, APLOG_ERR, 0, r, pg_errstr);

When part of the error message contains a format string specifier it is
processed. For example, for the username "%x%x%x%x%x", output similar
to the following may appear in the 'error_log' file for the targetted

[Tue Sep 23 11:34:38 2005] [error] [client] mod_auth_pgsql:
Password for user 406869a083b3c900083b3cb3 not found (PG-Authoritative)

The sequence of hex characters is the result of the ap_log_rerror()
function parsing the input string as a format string, and contains
values from the stack. When the name supplied causes an invalid memory
access, the child process may exit with a logged error similar to:

[Tue Sep 24 11:25:53 2005] [notice] child pid 12345 exit signal
Segmentation fault (11)


Successful exploitation allows remote attackers to gain local access to
the vulnerable system in the context of the affected httpd. In order to
exploit this vulnerability, the attacker must know the URI of at least
one reource on the web server which is configured to use this module for
authentication. This module is not installed by default, but is
available as a package from some vendors, including Red Hat. Additional
configuration is required before the module is active after installing.

While format string exploit techniques are well documented, most
discussions of and exploits for vulnerabilities containing them rely on
the user supplied string being located on the stack. The reason for
this is that it allows the attacker to directly supply pointers to the
memory locations they wish to modify via the %n format specifier. As
this module does not store the format string on the stack, this may make
exploitation more difficult as techniques for exploiting this kind of
format string are not as commonly known. However, such information is
publicly available.

Successful exploitation would allow a remote unauthenticated user access
to an affected system with the permissions of the httpd itself.


iDefense has confirmed the existence of this vulnerability in version
2.0.2b1 of mod_auth_pgsql for Apache 2.x. It is suspected that earlier
versions are also affected.


Disable the module, and use another form of authentication for the
affected resource.

In order to disable the module on Red Hat systems, execute the following
commands as root:

cd /etc/httpd/conf.d
mv auth_pgsql.conf auth_pgsql.disabled

If you have any '.htaccess' files, you may also have to disable any
authentication with references to mod_auth_pgsql directives. These
directives all start with 'Auth_PG_'.

At this point, you should add another authentication method for the
resources that were protected by this module. The exact operations to
perform are dependant on which authentication method you choose to use.

After performing these steps, restart the httpd by executing the
following command as root:

/sbin/service httpd restart

For other distributions, the general steps are the same (disable the
module, add another form of authentication, and restart the httpd),
however the details may vary slightly.


The maintainer has released mod_auth_pgsql 2.0.3 to address this
vulnerability, which is available for download at:


Red Hat, Inc:

Updates are available for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 and 4 to correct
this issue. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 2.1 was not affected by this
issue. New mod_auth_pgsql packages along with our advisory are available
at the URL below and by using the Red Hat Network 'up2date' tool.


Updates are available for Fedora Core 3 and 4 to correct this issue.



The Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) project has assigned the
name CVE-2005-3656 to this issue. This is a candidate for inclusion in
the CVE list (http://cve.mitre.org), which standardizes names for
security problems.


11/15/2005 Initial vendor notification
11/22/2005 Initial vendor response
01/09/2006 Coordinated public disclosure


The discovery of this vulnerability is credited to Sparfell.

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Copyright © 2006 iDefense, Inc.

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Disclaimer: The information in the advisory is believed to be accurate
at the time of publishing based on currently available information. Use
of the information constitutes acceptance for use in an AS IS condition.
There are no warranties with regard to this information. Neither the
author nor the publisher accepts any liability for any direct, indirect,
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