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Rapid7 Advisory R7-0026: HTTP Header Injection Vulnerabilities in the Flash Player Plugin
Oct 17 2006 08:34PM
advisory rapid7 com
Rapid7 Advisory R7-0026
HTTP Header Injection Vulnerabilities in the Flash Player Plugin
Published: Oct 17, 2006
1. Affected System(s):
o Flash Player plugin 9.0.16 (for Windows)
o Flash Player plugin 7.0.63 (for Linux)
o Earlier 9.0.x and 7.0.x versions
o 8.0.x versions
o Flash Player plugin BETA version 9.0.18d60 (for Windows)
Two HTTP Header Injection vulnerabilities have been discovered by Rapid7
in the Flash Player plugin. They allow attackers to perform arbitrary
HTTP requests while controlling most of the HTTP headers. This can make
it easier to perform CSRF attacks  in some cases. When the HTTP
server implements Keep-Alive connections and when Firefox is used, these
Flash vulnerabilities can even be used to perform totally arbitrary HTTP
requests where every part is controlled by the attacker: HTTP method,
URI, HTTP version, headers, and data. Such attacks make use of the HTTP
Request Splitting method.
3. Vendor Status and Information
Adobe Systems, Inc.
Sep 18, 2006
Adobe acknowledges reception of the vulnerability details.
Sep 29, 2006
Adobe responds with proposed dates for a fix later this year.
Oct 5, 2006
Adobe releases a fixed BETA version of Flash 9 for Windows (version
9.0.18d60, release files are named beta_100406).
Oct 17, 2006
Advisory is published after expiration of the 30-day grace period
granted to Adobe to fix and disclose the vulnerabilities.
Used the fixed BETA version (9.0.18d60). Only allow trusted websites to
use Flash. Disable or uninstall the Flash plugin. Use alternative Flash
plugins (GplFlash, Gnash).
5. Detailed Analysis
The vulnerabilities described hereafter have been successfully tested
with the latest versions of Flash available for various platforms as of
2006/09/06, and with multiple combinations of browser/OS:
o IE6 SP2 (aka IE6 SV1) for Windows, with Flash plugin 9.0.16
o Firefox 18.104.22.168 for Windows, with Flash plugin 9.0.16
o Firefox 22.214.171.124 for Linux, with Flash plugin 7.0.63
5.1. XML.addRequestHeader() Vulnerability
Flash features a scripting language called ActionScript. ActionScript
comes with a certain number of standard classes available to Flash
developers. In particular, the send() method of the XML object can be
used to send XML document trees to arbitrary URLs using, by default, a
POST request. This, in itself, is not a vulnerability; the XML.send()
method definitely complies with the Flash security model .
However another method defined in the XML class, addRequestHeader(), can
be used to add arbitrary HTTP headers to the request performed by Flash.
Its intended usage is:
var req:XML=new XML('test');
When calling req.send("http://host/path"), such a POST request would be
submitted to 'host' (common HTTP headers that do not matter to us in
this example have been removed for brevity):
POST /path HTTP/1.1
For security reasons, Flash 9 does not let developers use
addRequestHeader() to set headers such as Host, Referer, or
But there is a way to get around this security restriction: the
addRequestHeader() method does not sufficiently sanity check its two
arguments. This makes it possible to inject arbitrary headers:
With IE, a request containing only the fake Referer is sent:
POST /path HTTP/1.1
With Firefox, a request containing both the real Referer and the fake
one is sent:
POST /path HTTP/1.1
Referer: (real referer)
For this attack to work, the first argument of addRequestHeader() must
not contain any space (ASCII 0x20) else the Flash plugin appears to
ignore the addRequestHeader() call. This is absolutely not a problem in
real-world attack scenarios, because the space character usually present
before the Referer value is optional (see RFC 2616 , section "4.2
It is interesting to note that IE seems to post-process the headers
generated by Flash before sending them to the HTTP server. Indeed, IE
diligently removes the real Referer to use the Flash-generated one, and
it even automatically adds the optional space character before the fake
Of course any cookie that would be associated with 'host' would be
automatically sent along with the request, which is another good thing
For total control of the generated request, when the server supports
keep-alive connections and when Firefox is used, it is possible to use
the HTTP Request Splitting method to insert another HTTP request:
This generates what Firefox thinks is one request, while in fact the
server interprets it as two separate requests because of the fake
POST /path HTTP/1.1
Referer: (real referer)
POST /anotherpath HTTP/1.1
Tabs (ASCII 0x09) have to be used around the URI ("/anotherpath")
instead of spaces (ASCII 0x20) else, as explained above, Flash ignores
the addRequestHeader() call. But other than this minor inconvenient,
pretty much any other character can be sent, absolutely nothing is
URL-encoded, which gives plenty of freedom to attackers.
The unwanted data after "foo" (": bar\r\nContent-length: 4\r\n\r\ntest")
do not create any problem at all either. Because the attacker-controlled
"Content-Length:3" header takes care of instructing the server to ignore
any subsequent data.
When trying to use this HTTP Request Splitting method with IE, it fails
with a generic "The page cannot be displayed" error. This is probably
due to the fact that when IE post-processes the headers (as explained
previously), it messes up the manually built HTTP request and ends up
with something that doesn't look like 2 valid requests at all. In
particular, what seems to trigger this error is the CR LF CR LF sequence
separating the headers from the body. This issue has not been
investigated any more. More research is necessary to determine if
exploiting IE this way is possible.
It should be pointed out that this new Flash 9 XML.addRequestHeader()
vulnerability is similar to other, previously reported vulnerabilities
in Flash 7 & 8 affecting the LoadVars class, as explained in this
Bugtraq posting from Amit Klein . So, in a certain way, this new
vulnerability re-opens a path of exploitation that was available to
attackers in Flash 7 & 8.
5.2. XML.contentType Vulnerability
The XML class defines the contentType attribute, which can be set by
Flash developers, e.g.:
req.contentType = "text/plain";
The exact same vulnerability than the one described in the previous
section also exists for this attribute: Flash does not check the
validity of its value before building the HTTP request. It is possible
to exploit it in the same way that addRequestHeader() is used:
req.contentType = "text/plain\r\nReferer: anything";
Contrary to addRequestHeader(), Flash allows spaces (ASCII 0x20) to be
used in this string.
The consequence of these vulnerabilities is that attackers have a lot
more control on the headers that get sent along with HTTP requests,
compared to what is commonly thought possible. In particular the Host,
Referer, and User-Agent headers can be spoofed. It is even possible to
voluntarily generate malformed HTTP requests too, when the HTTP Request
Splitting method is used.
But when combined with other flaws, such as XSS or CSRF, these Flash
vulnerabilities become a handy tool to exploit them. The next section
describes a CSRF attack scenario.
6. Exploitation Example
6.1. Description of CSRF Attacks
A Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) is a form of attack where a
malicious site A exploits the trust a site B has in a user by forging an
HTTP request and sending it to site B, which sees it as coming from its
trusted user. See  for a more detailled description of CSRF attacks.
The Flash vulnerabilities presented above can help attackers forge such
Multiple approaches exist to prevent CSRF attacks, offering varying
levels of protection. For example requiring POST requests instead of GET
requests is a very poor way to protect against them. Other times, the
protection chosen by web site developers is to check for the HTTP
Referer. The assumption is that spoofing the Referer header is much
harder, but not impossible. These Flash vulnerabilities are able to
A much better way to protect against CSRF attacks is to require the use
of a security hash, as described in .
6.2. Attack Scenario
Let's say a malicious attacker is able to convince a user to visit his
malicious website http://malicious. The intent of the attacker is to
perform a CSRF attack against the user's bank website https://bank to
silently transfer money from the user's account to the attacker's
account. This attack assumes that (1) the bank uses SSL/TLS (HTTPS)
combined with cookie-based authentication, (2) checks the Referer header
to prevent CSRF attacks (hopefully no bank is doing this), and (3) that
a money transfer order can be initiated via such an HTTP request:
POST /xfer.cgi HTTP/1.1
The attack also assumes the user is using Firefox, because we are going
to use the CR LF CR LF sequence with addRequestHeader() to insert the
HTTP body data (as explained in section 1.1 this sequence does not work
with IE for an unknown reason).
We have to insert the HTTP body using addRequestHeader() because this
way the body doesn't get URL-encoded by Flash (it is URL-encoded when
passed as a string to the XML() constructor).
And we have to prevent URL-encoding in order to preserve the ampersands
("&") present in the body ("from=...&to=...").
So, in order to perform the attack, the attacker would have to place a
Flash movie on http://malicious containing this ActionScript code:
var req:XML=new XML('x');
Then, when the user would visit http://malicious, assuming his browser
still owns an unexpired cookie from the bank, this request would be sent
via HTTPS (XML.send() allows an HTTP site to send data over HTTPS):
POST /xfer.cgi HTTP/1.1
Cookie: (bank cookie)
And the attack would succeed, despite SSL/TLS, despite the cookie auth,
and despite the Referer check (if the application server takes into
account the second Referer).
If URL-encoding of the HTTP body is acceptable, then IE can be targetted
by not using the CR LF CR LF sequence, then only one Referer would be
present in the headers.
This vulnerability was discovered by Marc Bevand of Rapid7.
8. Contact Information
Email: advisory (at) rapid7 (dot) com [email concealed]
Phone: +1 (310) 316-1235
9. Disclaimer and Copyright
Rapid7, LLC is not responsible for the misuse of the information
provided in our security advisories. These advisories are a service to
the professional security community. There are NO WARRANTIES with regard
to this information. Any application or distribution of this information
constitutes acceptance AS IS, at the user's own risk. This information
is subject to change without notice.
This advisory Copyright (C) 2006 Rapid7, LLC. Permission is hereby
granted to redistribute this advisory, providing that no changes are
made and that the copyright notices and disclaimers remain intact.
 The Flash security model allows SWF files to perform XML.send()
requests to other domains, because this method can only be used to
send requests (and not receive the associated responses, which could
be sensitive/private data). This, plus the fact that Flash enforces
other restrictions (such as preventing the overwriting of some HTTP
headers), explains why the security model allows cross-domain
 RFC 2616 - Hypertext Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.1
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