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HTTP Client Security

neon is intended to be secure against a specific threat model: use of a malicious HTTP server. Under this threat model, a range of attacks are possible against a client when the user (or application) can be tricked into accessing an HTTP server which is controlled by an attacker. This section documents various types of possible attack and describes what mitigation is used in neon.

CPU or memory consumption attacks

neon uses fixed resource limits to prevent the following attacks:

  • memory/CPU consumption attack using an unbounded number of response header fields

  • memory consumption attack using an unbounded length of individual response header lines (or continuation headers)

  • memory consumption attack against the PROPFIND code using an unbounded number of properties (propstat elements) per resource

  • memory consumption attack against the PROPFIND code using an unbounded CDATA element in a "flat property" value

Memory consumption attacks against applications based on neon by use of unbounded response length are also possible, but must be mitigated at application level. Memory consumption in neon itself is fixed and is not proportional to the response size.

Test cases for all the above attacks are present in the neon test suite.

SSL/TLS connection security

When using a connection secured by SSL/TLS, it is necessary for clients to verify that the X.509 certificate presented by the server matches the server's expected identity. The algorithm required for this purpose is described in RFC 2818 and RFC 3280, and is implemented by neon in the following manner:

  • the hostname argument passed to ne_session_create is the expected identity of the server

  • the subjectAltName extension of the certificate is used for comparison against the expected identity, in preference to the Subject name's commonName attribute.

  • the dNSName, iPAddress, and uniformResourceIdentifier classes of GeneralName are supported in subjectAltName comparison.

  • if no subjectAltName is present in the certificate, the most specific commonName attribute in the Subject name is used for comparison instead.

In the case where a server certificate is presented that does not match the expected identity (or is otherwise not trusted), neon will fail the request by default. This behaviour can be overridden by the use of a callback installed using ne_ssl_set_verify, which allows the application to present the certificate details to a user for manual/off-line verification, if possible.

Test cases for the correctness of the implementation of the identity verification algorithm are present in the neon test suite.

Control character insertion in error messages

Where error messages (as returned by (ne_get_error) contain data supplied by the server, the untrusted data is sanitised to remove both control characters and non-ASCII characters. This prevents any attacks where such error messages are exposed to the user and can potentially distort the presentation of the interface (for example, through the use of a carriage return character in a text user interface).

Attacks against authentication credentials

Authentication credentials can be compromised by a "downgrade attack" by an active attacker; for example, where a MITM presents a Basic authentication challenge in place of the server's Digest challenge. neon mitigates these attacks by allowing the application (and hence, user) to specify that only a specific set of authentication protocols is permitted.

neon supports the Digest and Negotiate authentication schemes, which both allow authentication of users without passing credentials in cleartext over the wire. The "domain" parameter is supported in Digest, allowing the server to restrict an authentication session to a particular set of URIs.