The Windows operating system will automatically, and without any way for applications to disable it, try to establish a connection to another host over the network and access it (over SMB or other protocols), if only the correct file path is accessed.
When first realizing this, the curl team tried to filter out such attempts in order to protect applications for inadvertent probes of for example internal networks etc. This resulted in CVE-2019-15601 and the associated security fix.
However, we’ve since been made aware of the fact that the previous fix was far from adequate as there are several other ways to accomplish more or less the same thing: accessing a remote host over the network instead of the local file system.
The conclusion we have come to is that this is a weakness or feature in the Windows operating system itself, that we as an application and library cannot protect users against. It would just be a whack-a-mole race we don’t want to participate in. There are too many ways to do it and there’s no knob we can use to turn off the practice.
We no longer consider this to be a curl security flaw!
If you use curl or libcurl on Windows (any version), disable the use of the FILE protocol in curl or be prepared that accesses to a range of “magic paths” will potentially make your system try to access other hosts on your network. curl cannot protect you against this.
This was previously considered a curl security problem, as reported in CVE-2019-15601. We no longer consider that a security flaw and have updated that web page with information matching our new findings. I don’t expect any other CVE database to update since there’s no established mechanism for updating CVEs!
Many thanks to Tim Sedlmeyer who highlighted the extent of this issue for us.
In a Blackhat 2019 presentation, three gentlemen from the Tencent Blade Team explained how they found and managed to exploit two curl flaws. Both related to NTLM over HTTP. The “client version Heartbleed” as they call it.
The Tencent team already reported the bugs responsibly to us and we already fixed them back in February 2019, but the talk is still very interesting I think.
From my point of view, as I have already discussed these bugs with the team when they were reported us and when I worked on fixing them, I find it very interesting and educational to learn more about how exactly they envision an attacker would go about and exploit them in practice. I have much too bad imagination sometimes to really think of how bad exactly the problems can end up when a creative attacker gets to play with them.
The security issues
The two specific issues these stellar gents found are already fixed since curl 7.64.0 and you can read all the gory details about them here: CVE-2018-16890 and CVE-2019-3822. The latter is clearly the worse issue.
For all I know, these exploits have never been seen or reported to happen in real life.
Luckily, most distros that ship older curl versions still back-port and apply later security patches so even if you may see that you have an older curl version installed on your system, chances are it has already been patched. Of course there’s also a risk that it hasn’t, so you should probably make sure rather than presume…
Unfortunately, I’m sorry to admit that these excellent friends of ours did not get a bug bounty from us! 🙁
We got their reports before our bug bounty was setup and we didn’t have neither the means nor the methods to reward them back then. If someone would report such serious bugs now, only a year later, we would probably reward new such findings with several thousand dollars.
NTLM was always wrong, bad and a hack. It’s not an excuse for having bugs in our code but man if someone could just please make that thing go away…
FOSDEM 2020 is over for this time and I had an awesome time in Brussels once again.
I brought a huge collection of stickers this year and I kept going back to the wolfSSL stand to refill the stash and it kept being emptied almost as fast. Hundreds of curl stickers were given away! The photo on the right shows my “sticker bag” as it looked before I left Sweden.
Lesson for next year: bring a larger amount of stickers! If you missed out on curl stickers, get in touch and I’ll do my best to satisfy your needs.
“HTTP/3 for everyone” was my single talk this FOSDEM. Just two days before the talk, I landed updated commits in curl’s git master branch for doing HTTP/3 up-to-date with the latest draft (-25). Very timely and I got to update the slide mentioning this.
As I talked HTTP/3 already last year in the Mozilla devroom, I also made sure to go through the slides I used then to compare and make sure I wouldn’t do too much of the same talk. But lots of things have changed and most of the content is updated and different this time around. Last year, literally hundreds of people were lining up outside wanting to get into room when the doors were closed. This year, I talked in the room Janson, which features 1415 seats. The biggest one on campus. It was pack full!
It is kind of an adrenaline rush to stand in front of such a wall of people. At one time in my talk I paused for a brief moment and then I felt I could almost hear the complete silence when a huge amount of attentive faces captured what I had to say.
I got a lot of positive feedback on the presentation. I also thought that my decision to not even try to take question in the big room was a correct and I ended up talking and discussing details behind the scene for a good while after my talk was done. Really fun!
The video is also available from the FOSDEM site in webm and mp4 formats.
If you want the slides only, run over to slideshare and view them.
I’m happy to announce that curl now supports a third SSH library option: wolfSSH. Using this, you can build curl and libcurl to do SFTP transfers in a really small footprint that’s perfectly suitable for embedded systems and others. This goes excellent together with the tiny-curl effort.
The initial merge of this functionality only provides SFTP ability and not SCP. There’s really no deeper thoughts behind this other than that the work has been staged and the code is smaller for SFTP-only and it might be that users on these smaller devices are happy with SFTP-only.
Work on adding SCP support for the wolfSSH backend can be done at a later time if we feel the need. Let me know if you’re one such user!
Build time selection
You select which SSH backend to use at build time. When you invoke the configure script, you decide if wolfSSH, libssh2 or libssh is the correct choice for you (and you need to have the correct dev version of the desired library installed).
The initial SFTP and SCP support was added to curl in November 2006, powered by libssh2 (the first release to ship it was 7.16.1). Support for getting those protocols handled by libssh instead (which is a separate library, they’re just named very similarly) was merged in October 2017.
WolfSSH uses WolfSSL functions
If you decide to use the wolfSSH backend for SFTP, it is also possibly a good idea to go with WolfSSL for the TLS backend to power HTTPS and others.
A plethora of third party libs
WolfSSH becomes the 32nd third party component that curl can currently be built to use. See the slide below and click on it to get the full resolution version.
I, Daniel, wrote the initial new wolfSSH backend code. Merged in this commit.
2019 is special in my heart. 2019 was different than many other years to me in several ways. It was a great year! This is what 2019 was to me.
curl and wolfSSL
I quit Mozilla last year and in the beginning of the year I could announce that I joined wolfSSL. For the first time in my life I could actually work with curl on my day job. As the project turned 21 I had spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 unpaid spare time hours on it and now I could finally do it “for real”. It’s huge.
Just in November 2018 the name HTTP/3 was set and this year has been all about getting it ready. I was proud to land and promote HTTP/3 in curl just before the first browser (Chrome) announced their support. The standard is still in progress and we hope to see it ship not too long into next year.
Focusing on curl full time allows a different kind of focus. I’ve landed more commits in curl during 2019 than any other year going back all the way to 2005. We also reached 25,000 commits and 3,000 forks on github.
We’ve added HTTP/3, alt-svc, parallel transfers in the curl tool, tiny-curl, fixed hundreds of bugs and much, much more. Ten days before the end of the year, I’ve authored 57% (over 700) of all the commits done in curl during 2019.
We also (re)started our own curl Bug Bounty in 2019 together with Hackerone and paid over 1000 USD in rewards through-out the year. It was so successful we’re determined to raise the amounts significantly going into 2020.
I’ve done 28 talks in six countries. A crazy amount in front of a lot of people.
When Github had their Github Universe event in November and talked about their new sponsors program on stage (which I am part of, you can sponsor me) this huge quote of mine was shown on the big screen.
Maybe not media, but in no less than two Mr Robot episodes we could see curl commands in a TV show!
In 2019 I did more public speaking than I’ve ever than before in a single year: 28 public appearances. More than 4,500 persons have seen my presentations live at both huge events (like 1,200 in the audience at FOSDEM 2019) but also some very small and up-close occasions. Many thousands more have also seen video recordings of some of the talks – my most viewed youtube talk of 2019 has been seen over 58,000 times. Do I need to say that it was about HTTP/3, a topic that was my most common one to talk about through-out the year? I suspect the desire to listen and learn more about that protocol version is far from saturated out there…
During the year I’ve done presentations in
Barcelona, Brussels, Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Mainz, Prague, Stockholm and Umeå.
I’ve did many in Stockholm, two in Copenhagen.
During the year I’ve done presentations in
Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Spain and Sweden.
Most of my talks were held in Sweden. I did one streamed from my home office!
14 of these talks had a title that included “HTTP/3” (example)
9 talks had “curl” in the title (one of them also had HTTP/3 in it) (example)
The Internet Museum translated to Swedish becomes “internetmuseum“. It is a digital, online-only, museum that collects Internet- and Web related historical information, especially focused on the Swedish angle to all of this. It collects stories from people who did the things. The pioneers, the ground breakers, the leaders, the early visionaries. Most of their documentation is done in the form of video interviews.
I was approached and asked to be part of this – as an Internet Pioneer. Me? Internet Pioneer, really?
I’m humbled and honored to be considered and I certainly had a lot of fun doing this interview. To all my friends not (yet) fluent in Swedish: here’s your grand opportunity to practice, because this is done entirely in this language of curl founders and muppet chefs.
Back in the morning of October 18th 2019, two guys showed up as planned at my door and I let them in. One of my guests was a photographer who set up his gear in my living room for the interview, and then me and and guest number two, interviewer Jörgen, sat down and talked for almost an hour straight while being recorded.
The result can be seen here below.
The Science museum was first
This is in fact the second Swedish museum to feature me.
I have already been honored with a display about me, at the Tekniska Museet in Stockholm, the “Science museum” which has an exhibition about past Polhem Prize award winners.
By late 2019, there’s an estimated amount of ten billion curl installations in the world. Of course this is a rough estimate and depends on how you count etc.
There are several billion mobile phones and tablets and a large share of those have multiple installations of curl. Then there all the Windows 10 machines, web sites, all macs, hundreds of millions of cars, possibly a billion or so games, maybe half a billion TVs, games consoles and more.
How much data are they transferring?
In the high end of volume users, we have at least two that I know of are doing around one million requests/sec on average (and I’m not even sure they are the top users, they just happen to be users I know do high volumes) but in the low end there will certainly be a huge amount of installations that barely ever do any requests at all.
If there are two users that I know are doing one million requests/sec, chances are there are more and there might be a few doing more than a million and certainly many that do less but still many.
Among many of the named and sometimes high profiled apps and users I know use curl, I very rarely know exactly for what purpose they use curl. Also, some use curl to do very many small requests and some will use it to do a few but very large transfers.
Additionally, and this really complicates the ability to do any good estimates, I suppose a number of curl users are doing transfers that aren’t typically considered to be part of “the Internet”. Like when curl is used for doing HTTP requests for every single subway passenger passing ticket gates in the London underground, I don’t think they can be counted as Internet transfers even though they use internet protocols.
How much data are browsers driving?
According to some data, there is today around 4.388 billion “Internet users” (page 39) and the world wide average time spent “on the Internet” is said to be 6 hours 42 minutes (page 50). I think these numbers seem credible and reasonable.
According to broadbandchoices, an average hour of “web browsing” spends about 25MB. According to databox.com, an average visit to a web site is 2-3 minutes. httparchive.org says the median page needs 74 HTTP requests to render.
So what do users do with their 6 hours and 42 minutes “online time” and how much of it is spent in a browser? I’ve tried to find statistics for this but failed.
@chuttenc (of Mozilla) stepped up and helped me out with getting stats from Firefox users. Based on stats from users that used Firefox on the day of October 1, 2019 and actually used their browser that day, they did 2847 requests per client as median with the median download amount 18808 kilobytes. Of that single day of use.
I don’t have any particular reason to think that other browsers, other days or users of other browsers are very different than Firefox users of that single day. Let’s count with 3,000 requests and 20MB per day. Interestingly, that makes the average data size per request a mere 6.7 kilobytes.
A median desktop web page total size is 1939KB right now according to httparchive.org (and the mobile ones are just slightly smaller so the difference isn’t too important here).
Based on the median weight per site from httparchive, this would imply that a median browser user visits the equivalent of 15 typical sites per day (30MB/1.939MB).
If each user spends 3 minutes per site, that’s still just 45 minutes of browsing per day. Out of the 6 hours 42 minutes. 11% of Internet time is browser time.
3000 requests x 4388000000 internet users, makes 13,164,000,000,000 requests per day. That’s 13.1 trillion HTTP requests per day.
The world’s web users make about 152.4 million HTTP requests per second.
(I think this is counting too high because I find it unlikely that all internet users on the globe use their browsers this much every day.)
The equivalent math to figure out today’s daily data amounts transferred by browsers makes it 4388000000 x 30MB = 131,640,000,000 megabytes/day. 1,523,611 megabytes per second. 1.5 TB/sec.
30MB/day equals a little under one GB/month per person. Feels about right.
Back to curl usage
The curl users with the highest request frequencies known to me (*) are racing away at one million requests/second on average, but how many requests do the others actually do? It’s really impossible to say. Let’s play the guessing game!
First, it feels reasonable to assume that these two users that I know of are not alone in doing high frequency transfers with curl. Purely based on probability, it seems reasonable to assume that the top-20 something users together will issue at least 10 million requests/second.
Looking at the users that aren’t in that very top. Is it reasonable to assume that each such installed curl instance makes a request every 10 minutes on average? Maybe it’s one per every 100 minutes? Or is it 10 per minute? There are some extremely high volume and high frequency users but there’s definitely a very long tail of installations basically never doing anything… The grim truth is that we simply cannot know and there’s no way to even get a ballpark figure. We need to guess.
Let’s toy with the idea that every single curl instance on average makes a transfer, a request, every tenth minute. That makes 10 x 10^9 / 600 = 16.7 million transfers per second in addition to the top users’ ten million. Let’s say 26 million requests per second. The browsers of the world do 152 million per second.
If each of those curl requests transfer 50Kb of data (arbitrarily picked out of thin air because again we can’t reasonably find or calculate this number), they make up (26,000,000 x 50 ) 1.3 TB/sec. That’s 85% of the data volume all the browsers in the world transfer.
The world wide browser market share distribution according to statcounter.com is currently: Chrome at 64%, Safari at 16.3% and Firefox at 4.5%.
This simple-minded estimate would imply that maybe, perhaps, possibly, curl transfers more data an average day than any single individual browser flavor does. Combined, the browsers transfer more.
Sure, or call them estimates. I’m doing them to the best of my ability. If you have data, reasoning or evidence to back up modifications my numbers or calculations that you can provide, nobody would be happier than me! I will of course update this post if that happens!
(*) = I don’t name these users since I’ve been given glimpses of their usage statistics informally and I’ve been asked to not make their numbers public. I hold my promise by not revealing who they are.
Thanks to chuttenc for the Firefox numbers, as mentioned above, and thanks also to Jan Wildeboer for helping me dig up stats links used in this post.
In the afternoon of August 5 2019, I successfully made curl request a document over HTTP/3, retrieve it and then exit cleanly again.
(It got a 404 response code, two HTTP headers and 10 bytes of content so the actual response was certainly less thrilling to me than the fact that it actually delivered that response over HTTP version 3 over QUIC.)
The components necessary for this to work, if you want to play along at home, are reasonably up-to-date git clones of curl itself and the HTTP/3 library called quiche (and of course quiche’s dependencies too, like boringssl), then apply pull-request 4193 (build everything accordingly) and run a command line like:
curl --http3-direct https://quic.tech:8443
The host name used here (“quic.tech”) is a server run by friends at Cloudflare and it is there for testing and interop purposes and at the time of this test it ran QUIC draft-22 and HTTP/3.
The command line option --http3-direct tells curl to attempt HTTP/3 immediately, which includes using QUIC instead of TCP to the host name and port number – by default you should of course expect a HTTPS:// URL to use TCP + TLS.
The official way to bootstrap into HTTP/3 from HTTP/1 or HTTP/2 is via the server announcing it’s ability to speak HTTP/3 by returning an Alt-Svc: header saying so. curl supports this method as well, it just needs it to be explicitly enabled at build-time since that also is still an experimental feature.
To use alt-svc instead, you do it like this:
curl --alt-svc altcache https://quic.tech:8443
The alt-svc method won’t “take” on the first shot though since it needs to first connect over HTTP/2 (or HTTP/1) to get the alt-svc header and store that information in the “altcache” file, but if you then invoke it again and use the same alt-svc cache curl will know to use HTTP/3 then!
Be aware that I just made this tiny GET request work. The code is not cleaned up, there are gaps in functionality, we’re missing error checks, we don’t have tests and chances are the internals will change quite a lot going forward as we polish this.
You’re of course still more than welcome to join in, play with it, report bugs or submit pull requests! If you help out, we can make curl’s HTTP/3 support better and getting there sooner than otherwise.
QUIC and TLS backends
curl currently supports two different QUIC/HTTP3 backends, ngtcp2 and quiche. Only the latter currently works this good though. I hope we can get up to speed with the ngtcp2 one too soon.
quiche uses and requires boringssl to be used while ngtcp2 is TLS library independent and will allow us to support QUIC and HTTP/3 with more TLS libraries going forward. Unfortunately it also makes it more complicated to use…
The official OpenSSL doesn’t offer APIs for QUIC. QUIC uses TLS 1.3 but in a way it was never used before when done over TCP so basically all TLS libraries have had to add APIs and do some adjustments to work for QUIC. The ngtcp2 team offers a patched version of OpenSSL that offers such an API so that OpenSSL be used.
Neither the QUIC nor the HTTP/3 protocols are entirely done and ready yet. We’re using the protocols as they are defined in the 22nd version of the protocol documents. They will probably change a little more before they get carved in stone and become the final RFC that they are on their way to.
The libcurl API so far
The command line options mentioned above of course have their corresponding options for libcurl using apps as well.