This story begins with a security flaw in OpenSSL. OpenSSL is truly a fundamental piece of software these days and I would go so far and say that lots of our critical infrastructure today is using it and needs it. Flaws in OpenSSL literally affect entire societies or at least risk doing so if the flaws can be exploited.
SSL/TLS is a rather old and well used protocol with many different implementations, both client and server side. In order to enhance how OpenSSL works with older SSL implementations or just those that have different views on how to implement things, OpenSSL provides an API call to tweak behaviors. The SSL_CTX_set_options function. In the curl project we’ve found good use of it for this purpose, and we use the generic define SSL_OP_ALL to switch on all “rather harmless” workarounds that OpenSSL offers. Rather harmless, that’s what the comment in the header file says.
Ok, enough background and dancing around the issue. The flaw that ignited my idea to write this blog post was a particular mistake made within SSL a long time ago within the code handling SSL 3.0 and TLS 1.0 protocols when speaking this protocol with a peer that could select the plain-text (see this explanation) – the problem is a generic one with the protocol so different SSL libraries would approach it differently. Ok, so OpenSSL fixed the flaw back in the days of 0.9.6d (we’re talking May 9th 2002). As a user of a library such as OpenSSL it always feels good to see them being on top of security problems and releasing fixes. It makes you feel that you’re being looked after to some extent.
Shortly thereafter, the OpenSSL developers discovered that some broken server implementations didn’t work with the work-around they had done…
Alas, on July 30th 2002 the OpenSSL team released version 0.9.6e which offered a way for programs to disable this particular work-around. By switching this off, it would of course make the protocol less secure again but it would inter-operate better with faulty servers. How do you switch off this security measure? By using the SSL_CTX_set_options function setting the bit SSL_OP_DONT_INSERT_EMPTY_FRAGMENTS.
Ok, so far so good. But the next step is what changed everything from fine to not so fine anymore: they then added that new bit to the SSL_OP_ALL define.
Yes. In one blow every single application out there that use SSL_OP_ALL suddently started switching off this security measure as soon as they were recompiled against this version of OpenSSL. This change was made in 2002 and this is still like this today. It fixed the security problem from OpenSSL’s aspect, but the way the bit was later added to the SSL_OP_ALL define it was instead transferred to affect many programs.
In curl’s case, we were alerted about this flaw on January 19th 2012 and it resulted in a security advisory. I did a quick search for SSL_OP_ALL on koders.com and it is obvious that there are hundreds of programs out there still using this bitmask as-is. In the curl project we enabled the SSL_OP_ALL approach for the first time in the 7.10.6 release we did in July 2003. It was wrong already at the time we started using it. It turns out we’ve been enabling this flaw for almost nine years.
In the GnuTLS camp however, they simply stopped doing their work-around for this as soon as they started supporting TLS 1.1 due to the problems the work-around caused to some servers. This since TLS 1.1 isn’t vulnerable to the problem. OpenSSL 1.0.1 beta was released on Janurary 3 2012 and is the first OpenSSL version ever released to support TLS newer than 1.0… The browsers/NSS seem to have mitigated this problem in a different way and there’s a patch available for OpenSSL to implement the same work-around but there’s been no feedback on how or if it will be used.