tldr: starting now, you need to select which TLS to use when you run curl’s configure script.
How it started
In June 1998, three months after the first release of curl, we added support for HTTPS. We decided that we would use an external library for this purpose – for providing SSL support – and therefore the first dependency was added. The build would optionally use SSLeay. If you wanted HTTPS support enabled, we would use that external library.
SSLeay ended development at the end of that same year, and OpenSSL rose as a new project and library from its ashes. Of course, even later the term “SSL” would also be replaced by “TLS” but the entire world has kept using them interchangeably.
The initial configure script we wrote and provided back then (it appeared for the first time in November 1998) would look for OpenSSL and use it if found present.
In the spring of 2005, we merged support for an alternative TLS library, GnuTLS, and now you would have to tell the configure script to not use OpenSSL but instead use GnuTLS if you wanted that in your build. That was the humble beginning of the explosion of TLS libraries supported by curl.
As time went on we added support for more and more TLS libraries, giving the users the choice to select exactly which particular one they wanted their curl build to use. At the time of this writing, we support 14 different TLS libraries.
OpenSSL was still default
The original logic from when we added GnuTLS back in 2005 was however still kept so whatever library you wanted to use, you would have to tell configure to not use OpenSSL and instead use your preferred library.
Also, as the default configure script would try to find and use OpenSSL it would result in some surprises to users who maybe didn’t want TLS in their build or even when something was just not correctly setup and configure unexpectedly didn’t find OpenSSL and the build then went on and was made completely without TLS support! Sometimes even without getting noticed for a long time.
Not doing it anymore
Starting now, curl’s configure will not select TLS backend by default.
It will not decide for you which one you use, as there are many decisions involved when selecting TLS backend and there are many users who prefer something else than OpenSSL. We will no longer give any special treatment to that library at build time. We will not impose our bias onto others anymore.
Not selecting any TLS backend at all will just make configure exit quickly with a help message prompting you to make a decision, as shown below. Notice that going completely without a TLS library is still fine but similarly also requires an active decision (--without-ssl).
Effect on configure users
With this change, every configure invoke needs to clearly state which TLS library or even libraries (in plural since curl supports building with support for more than one library) to use.
The biggest change is of course for everyone who invokes configure and wants to build with OpenSSL since they now need to add an option and say that explicitly. For virtually everyone else life can just go on like before.
Everyone who builds curl automatically from source code might need to update their build scripts.
The first release shipping with this change will be curl 7.77.0.
tldr: the level of HTTP/3 support in servers is surprisingly high.
The specifications are all done. They’re now waiting in queues to get their final edits and approvals before they will get assigned RFC numbers and get published as such – they will not change any further. That’s a set of RFCs (six I believe) for various aspects of this new stack. The HTTP/3 spec is just one of those. Remember: HTTP/3 is the application protocol done over the new transport QUIC. (See http3 explained for a high-level description.)
The HTTP/3 spec was written to refer to, and thus depend on, two other HTTP specs that are in the works: httpbis-cache and https-semantics. Those two are mostly clarifications and cleanups of older HTTP specs, but this forces the HTTP/3 spec to have to get published after the other two, which might introduce a small delay compared to the other QUIC documents.
The working group has started to take on work on new specifications for extensions and improvements beyond QUIC version 1.
In early April 2021, the usage of QUIC and HTTP/3 in the world is measured by a few different companies.
netray.io scans the IPv4 address space weekly and checks how many hosts that speak QUIC. Their latest scan found 2.1 million such hosts.
Arguably, the netray number doesn’t say much. Those two million hosts could be very well used or barely used machines.
HTTP/3 by w3techs
w3techs.com has been in the game of scanning web sites for stats purposes for a long time. They scan the top ten million sites and count how large share that runs/supports what technologies and they also check for HTTP/3. In their data they call the old Google QUIC for just “QUIC” which is confusing but that should be seen as the precursor to HTTP/3.
What stands out to me in this data except that the HTTP/3 usage seems very high: the top one-million sites are claimed to have a higher share of HTTP/3 support (16.4%) than the top one-thousand (11.9%)! That’s the reversed for HTTP/2 and not how stats like this tend to look.
It has been suggested that the growth starting at Feb 2021 might be explained by Cloudflare’s enabling of HTTP/3 for users also in their free plan.
HTTP/3 by Cloudflare
On radar.cloudflare.com we can see Cloudflare’s view of a lot of Internet and protocol trends over the world.
This HTTP/3 number is significantly lower than w3techs’. Presumably because of the differences in how they measure.
All the major browsers have HTTP/3 implementations and most of them allow you to manually enable it if it isn’t already done so. Chrome and Edge have it enabled by default and Firefox will so very soon. The caniuse.com site shows it like this (updated on April 4):
(Earlier versions of this blog post showed the previous and inaccurate data from caniuse.com. Not anymore.)
curl supports HTTP/3 since a while back, but you need to explicitly enable it at build-time. It needs to use third party libraries for the HTTP/3 layer and it needs a QUIC capable TLS library. The QUIC/h3 libraries are still beta versions. See below for the TLS library situation.
curl’s HTTP/3 support is not even complete. There are still unsupported areas and it’s not considered stable yet.
curl supports 14 different TLS libraries at this time. Two of them have QUIC support landed: BoringSSL and GnuTLS. And a third would be the quictls OpenSSL fork. (There are also a few other smaller TLS libraries that support QUIC.)
The by far most popular TLS library to use with curl, OpenSSL, has postponed their QUIC work:
At the same time they have delayed the OpenSSL 3.0 release significantly. Their release schedule page still today speaks of a planned release of 3.0.0 in “early Q4 2020”. That plan expects a few months from the beta to final release and we have not yet seen a beta release, only alphas.
Realistically, this makes QUIC in OpenSSL many months off until it can appear even in a first alpha. Maybe even 2022 material?
The Google powered OpenSSL fork BoringSSL has supported QUIC for a long time and provides the OpenSSL API, but they don’t do releases and mostly focus on getting a library done for Google. People outside the company are generally reluctant to use and depend on this library for those reasons.
The quiche QUIC/h3 library from Cloudflare uses BoringSSL and curl can be built to use quiche (as well as BoringSSL).
Microsoft and Akamai have made a fork of OpenSSL available that is based on OpenSSL 1.1.1 and has the QUIC pull-request applied in order to offer a QUIC capable OpenSSL flavor to the world before the official OpenSSL gets their act together. This fork is called quictls. This should be compatible with OpenSSL in all other regards and provide QUIC with an API that is similar to BoringSSL’s.
The ngtcp2 QUIC library uses quictls. curl can be built to use ngtcp2 as well as with quictls,
Is HTTP/3 faster?
I realize I can’t blog about this topic without at least touching this question. The main reason for adding support for HTTP/3 on your site is probably that it makes it faster for users, so does it?
We’ve seen other numbers say h3 is faster shown before but it’s hard to find up-to-date performance measurements published for the current version of HTTP/3 vs HTTP/2 in real world scenarios. Partly of course because people have hesitated to compare before there are proper implementations to compare with, and not just development versions not really made and tweaked to perform optimally.
I think there are reasons to expect h3 to be faster in several situations, but for people with high bandwidth low latency connections in the western world, maybe the difference won’t be noticeable?
I’ve previously shown the slide below to illustrate what needs to be done for curl to ship with HTTP/3 support enabled in distros and “widely” and I think the same works for a lot of other projects and clients who don’t control their TLS implementation and don’t write their own QUIC/h3 layer code.
This house of cards of h3 is slowly getting some stable components, but there are still too many moving parts for most of us to ship.
I assume that the rest of the browsers will also enable HTTP/3 by default soon, and the specs will be released not too long into the future. That will make HTTP/3 traffic on the web increase significantly.
The QUIC and h3 libraries will ship their first non-beta versions once the specs are out.
The TLS library situation will continue to hamper wider adoption among non-browsers and smaller players.
The big players already deploy HTTP/3.
I’ve updated this post after the initial publication, and the biggest corrections are in the Chrome/Edge details. Thanks to immediate feedback from Eric Lawrence. Remaining errors are still all mine! Thanks also to Barry Pollard who filed the PR to update the previously flawed caniuse.com data.
We’ve done many curl releases over the years and this 191st one happens to be the 20th release ever done in the month of April, making it the leading release month in the project. (February is the month with the least number of releases with only 11 so far.)
the 191st release 4 changes 49 days (total: 8,076) 135 bug fixes (total: 6,073) 262 commits (total: 25,667) 0 new public libcurl function (total: 82) 0 new curl_easy_setopt() option (total: 270) 1 new curl command line option (total: 231) 65 contributors, 36 new (total: 2,169) 40 authors, 19 new (total: 788) 0 security fixes (total: 92) 0 USD paid in Bug Bounties
There’s no security advisory released this time. The release of curl 7.70.0 marks 231 days since the previous CVE regarding curl was announced. The longest CVE-free period in seven years in the project.
The curl tool got the new command line option --ssl-revoke-best-effort which is powered by the new libcurl bit CURLSSLOPT_REVOKE_BEST_EFFORT you can set in the CURLOPT_SSL_OPTIONS. They tell curl to ignore certificate revocation checks in case of missing or offline distribution points for those SSL backends where such behavior is present (read: Schannel).
We’ve introduced the first take on MQTT support. It is marked as experimental and needs to be explicitly enabled at build-time.
Bug-fixes to write home about
This is just an ordinary release cycle worth of fixes. Nothing particularly major but here’s a few I could add some extra blurb about…
gnutls: bump lowest supported version to 3.1.10
GnuTLS has been a supported TLS backend in curl since 2005 and we’ve supported a range of versions over the years. Starting now, we bumped the lowest supported GnuTLS version to 3.1.10 (released in March 2013). The reason we picked this particular version this time is that we landed a bug-fix for GnuTLS that wanted to use a function that was added to GnuTLS in that version. Then instead of making more conditional code, we cleaned up a lot of legacy and simplified the code significantly by simply removing support for everything older than this. I would presume that this shouldn’t hurt many users as I suspect it is a very bad idea to use older versions anyway, for security reasons if nothing else.
libssh: Use new ECDSA key types to check known hosts
curl supports three different SSH backends, and one them is libssh. It turned out that the glue layer we have in curl between the core libcurl and the SSH library lacked proper mappings for some recent key types that have been added to the SSH known_hosts file. This file has been getting new key types added over time that OpenSSH is using by default these days and we need to make sure to keep up…
multi-ssl: reset the SSL backend on Curl_global_cleanup()
curl can get built to support multiple different TLS backends – which lets the application to select which backend to use at startup. Due to an oversight we didn’t properly support that the application can go back and cleanup everything and select a different TLS backend – without having to restart the application. Starting now, it is possible!
Revert “file: on Windows, refuse paths that start with \\”
Back in January 2020 when we released 7.68.0 we announced what we then perceived was a security problem: CVE-2019-15601.
Later, we found out more details and backpedaled on that issue. “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature” as the saying goes. Since it isn’t a bug (anymore) we’ve now also subsequently removed the “fix” that we introduced back then…
tests: introduce preprocessed test cases
This is actually just one out of several changes in the curl test suite that has happened as steps in a larger sub-project: move all test servers away from using fixed port numbers over to using dynamically assigned ones. Using dynamic port numbers makes it easier to run the tests on random users’ machines as the risk for port collisions go away.
Previously, users had the ability to ask the tests to run on different ports by using a command line option but since it was rarely used, new test were often written assuming the default port number hard-coded. With this new concept, such mistakes can’t slip through.
In order to correctly support all test servers running on any port, we’ve enhanced the main test “runner” (runtests) to preprocess the test case files correctly which allows all our test servers to work with such port numbers appearing anywhere in protocol details, headers or response bodies.
The work on switching to dynamic port numbers isn’t quite completed yet but there are still a few servers using fixed ports. I hope those will be addressed within shortly.
tool_operate: fix add_parallel_transfers when more are in queue
Parallel transfers in the curl tool is still a fairly new thing, clearly, as we can get a report on this kind of basic functionality flaw. In this case, you could have curl generate zero byte output files when using --parallel-max to limit the parallelism, instead of getting them all downloaded fine.
version: add ‘cainfo’ and ‘capath’ to version info struct
curl_version_info() in libcurl returns lots of build information from the libcurl that’s running right now. It includes version number of libcurl, enabled features and version info from used 3rd party dependencies. Starting now, assuming you run a new enough libcurl of course, the returned struct also contains information about the built-in CA store default paths that the TLS backends use.
The idea being that your application can easily extract and use this information either in information/debugging purposes but also in cases where other components are used that also want a CA store and the application author wants to make sure both/all use the same paths!
windows: enable UnixSockets with all build toolchains
Due to oversights, several Windows build didn’t enable support for unix domain sockets even when built for such Windows 10 versions where there’s support provided for it in the OS.
scripts: release-notes and copyright
During the release cycle, I regularly update the RELEASE-NOTES file to include recent changes and bug-fixes scheduled to be included in the coming release. I do this so that users can easily see what’s coming; in git, on the web site and in the daily snapshots. This used to be a fairly manual process but the repetitive process finally made me create a perl script for it that removes a lot of the manual work: release-notes.pl. Yeah, I realize I’m probably the only one who’s going to use this script…
Already back in December 2018, our code style tool checksrc got the powers to also verify the copyright year range in the top header (written by Daniel Gustafsson). This makes sure that we don’t forget to bump the copyright years when we update files. But because this was a bit annoying and surprising to pull-request authors on GitHub we disabled it by default – which only lead to lots of mistakes still being landed on the poor suckers (like me) who enabled it would get the errors instead. Additionally, the check is a bit slow. This finally drove me into disabling the check as well.
To combat the net effect of that, I’ve introduced the copyright.pl script which is similar in spirit but instead scans all files in the git repository and verifies that they A) have a header and B) that the copyright range end year seems right. It also has a whitelist for files that don’t need to fulfill these requirements for whatever reason. Now we can run this script one every release cycle instead and get the same end results. Without being annoying to users and without slowing down anyone’s everyday builds! Win-win!
The release presentation video
The top image was painted by Dirck van Delen 1631. Found in the Swedish National Museum’s collection.
curl supports more TLS libraries than any other software I know of. The current count stops at 14 different ones that can be used to power curl’s TLS-based protocols (HTTPS primarily, but also FTPS, SMTPS, POP3S, IMAPS and so on).
The very first curl release didn’t have any TLS support, but already in June 1998 we shipped the first version that supported HTTPS. Back in those days the protocol was still really SSL. The library we used then was called SSLeay. (No, I never understood how that’s supposed to be pronounced)
The SSLeay library became OpenSSL very soon after but the API was brought along so curl supported it from the start.
More than one
In the spring of 2005 we merged the first support for building curl with a different TLS library. It was GnuTLS, which comes under a different license than OpenSSL and had a slightly different feature set. The race had began.
A short while ago and in time to get shipped in the coming 7.68.0 release (set to ship on January 8th 2020), the 14th TLS backend was merged into the curl source tree in the shape of support for BearSSL. BearSSL is a TLS library aimed at smaller devices and is perhaps lacking a bit in features (like no TLS 1.3 for example) but has still been requested by users in the past.
Since September 2017, you can even build libcurl to support one or more TLS libraries in the same build. When built that way, users can select which TLS backend curl should use at each start-up. A feature used and appreciated by for example git for Windows.
Below is an attempt to visualize how curl has grown in this area. Number of supported TLS backends over time, from the first curl release until today. The image comes from a slide I intend to use in a future curl presentation. A notable detail on this graph is the removal of axTLS support in late 2018 (removed in 7.63.0). PolarSSL is targeted to meet the same destiny in February 2020 since it gets no updates anymore and has in practice already been replaced by mbedTLS.
QUIC and TLS
If you’ve heard me talk about HTTP/3 (h3) and QUIC (like my talk at Full Stack Fest 2019), you already know that QUIC needs new APIs from the TLS libraries.
For h3 support to become reality in curl shipped in distros etc, the TLS library curl is set to use needs to provide a QUIC compatible API and the QUIC/h3 library curl uses then needs to support that.
It is likely that some TLS libraries are going to be fast with providing such APIs and some are going be (very) slow. Their particular individual abilities combined with the desire to ship curl with h3 support is likely going to affect what TLS library you will see used by curl in your distro will affect what TLS library you will build your own curl builds to use in the future.
The recently added BearSSL backend was written by Michael Forney. Top image by LEEROY Agency from Pixabay
TLS 1.3 has been in development for quite some time by now, and a lot of TLS libraries already support it to some extent. At varying draft levels.
curl and libcurl has supported an explicit option to select TLS 1.3 since curl 7.52.0 (December 2016) and assuming you build curl to use a TLS library with support, you’ve been able to use TLS 1.3 with curl since at least then. The support has gradually been expanded to cover more and more libraries since then.
Today, curl and libcurl support speaking TLS 1.3 if you build it to use one of these fine TLS libraries of a recent enough version:
Secure Transport (on iOS 11 or later, and macOS 10.13 or later)
Since a long time back, the venerable network analyzer tool Wireshark (screenshot above) has provided a way to decrypt and inspect TLS traffic when sent and received by Firefox and Chrome.
You do this by making the browser tell Wireshark the SSL secrets:
set the environment variable named SSLKEYLOGFILE to a file name of your choice before you start the browser
Setting the same file name path in the Master-secret field in Wireshark. Go to Preferences->Protocols->SSL and edit the path as shown in the screenshot below.
Having done this simple operation, you can now inspect your browser’s HTTPS traffic in Wireshark. Just super handy and awesome.
Just remember that if you record TLS traffic and want to save it for analyzing later, you need to also save the file with the secrets so that you can decrypt that traffic capture at a later time as well.
Adding curl to the mix. curl can be built using a dozen different TLS libraries and not just a single one as the browsers do. It complicates matters a bit.
In the NSS library for example, which is the TLS library curl is typically built with on Redhat and Centos, handles the SSLKEYLOGFILE magic all by itself so by extension you have been able to do this trick with curl for a long time – as long as you use curl built with NSS. A pretty good argument to use that build really.
Since curl version 7.57.0 the SSLKEYLOGFILE feature can also be enabled when built with GnuTLS, BoringSSL or OpenSSL. In the latter two libs, the feature is powered by new APIs in those libraries and in GnuTLS the library’s own logic similar to how NSS does it. Since OpenSSL is the by far most popular TLS backend for curl, this feature is now brought to users more widely.
In curl 7.58.0 (due to ship on Janurary 24, 2018), this feature is built by default also for curl with OpenSSL and in 7.57.0 you need to define ENABLE_SSLKEYLOGFILE to enable it for OpenSSL and BoringSSL.
And what’s even cooler? This feature is at the same time also brought to every single application out there that is built against this or later versions of libcurl. In one single blow. now suddenly a whole world opens to make it easier for you to debug, diagnose and analyze your applications’ TLS traffic when powered by libcurl!
Like the description above for browsers, you
set the environment variable SSLKEYLOGFILE to a file name to store the secrets in
tell Wireshark to use that same file to find the TLS secrets (Preferences->Protocols->SSL), as the screenshot showed above
run the libcurl-using application (such as curl) and Wireshark will be able to inspect TLS-based protocols just fine!
Of course, as a light weight alternative: you may opt to use the –trace or –trace-ascii options with the curl tool and be fully satisfied with that. Using those command line options, curl will log everything sent and received in the protocol layer without the TLS applied. With HTTPS you’ll see all the HTTP traffic for example.
Most of the curl work to enable this feature was done by Peter Wu and Ray Satiro.
While the first traces of http2 support in curl was added already back in September 2013 it hasn’t been until recently it actually was made useful. There’s been a lot of http2 related activities in the curl team recently and in the late January 2014 we could run our first command line inter-op tests against public http2 (draft-09) servers on the Internet.
There’s a lot to be said about http2 for those not into its nitty gritty details, but I’ll focus on the curl side of this universe in this blog post. I’ll do separate posts and presentations on http2 “internals” later.
A quick http2 overview
http2 (without the minor version, as per what the IETF work group has decided on) is a binary protocol that allows many logical streams multiplexed over the same physical TCP connection, it features compressed headers in both directions and it has stream priorities and more. It is being designed to maintain the user concepts and paradigms from HTTP 1.1 so web sites don’t have to change contents and web authors won’t need to relearn a lot. The web will not break because of http2, it will just magically work a little better, a little smoother and a little faster.
In libcurl we build http2 support with the help of the excellent library called nghttp2, which takes care of all the binary protocol details for us. You’ll also have to build it with a new enough version of the SSL library of your choice, as http2 over TLS will require use of some fairly recent TLS extensions that not many older releases have and several TLS libraries still completely lack!
The need for an extension is because with speaking TLS over port 443 which HTTPS implies, the current and former web infrastructure assumes that we will speak HTTP 1.1 over that, while we now want to be able to instead say we want to talk http2. When Google introduced SPDY then pushed for a new extension called NPN to do this, which when taken through the standardization in IETF has been forked, changed and renamed to ALPN with roughly the same characteristics (I don’t know the specific internals so I’ll stick to how they appear from the outside).
So, NPN and especially ALPN are fairly recent TLS extensions so you need a modern enough SSL library to get that support. OpenSSL and NSS both support NPN and ALPN with a recent enough version, while GnuTLS only supports ALPN. You can build libcurl to use any of these threes libraries to get it to talk http2 over TLS.
http2 using libcurl
(This still describes what’s in curl’s git repository, the first release to have this level of http2 support is the upcoming 7.36.0 release.)
Users of libcurl who want to enable http2 support will only have to set CURLOPT_HTTP_VERSION to CURL_HTTP_VERSION_2_0 and that’s it. It will make libcurl try to use http2 for the HTTP requests you do with that handle.
For HTTP URLs, this will make libcurl send a normal HTTP 1.1 request with an offer to the server to upgrade the connection to version 2 instead. If it does, libcurl will continue using http2 in the clear on the connection and if it doesn’t, it’ll continue using HTTP 1.1 on it. This mode is what Firefox and Chrome will not support.
For HTTPS URLs, libcurl will use NPN and ALPN as explained above and offer to speak http2 and if the server supports it. there will be http2 sweetness from than point onwards. Or it selects HTTP 1.1 and then that’s what will be used. The latter is also what will be picked if the server doesn’t support ALPN and NPN.
Alt-Svc and ALTSVC are new things planned to show up in time for http2 draft-11 so we haven’t really thought through how to best support them and provide their features in the libcurl API. Suggestions (and patches!) are of course welcome!
http2 with curl
Hardly surprising, the curl command line tool also has this power. You use the –http2 command line option to switch on the libcurl behavior as described above.
Translated into old-style
To reduce transition pains and problems and to work with the rest of the world to the highest possible degree, libcurl will (decompress and) translate received http2 headers into http 1.1 style headers so that applications and users will get a stream of headers that look very much the way you’re used to and it will produce an initial response line that says HTTP 2.0 blabla.
I just want to make this perfectly clear: http2 is not out “for real” yet. We have tried our http2 support somewhat at the draft-09 level and Tatsuhiro has worked on the draft-10 support in nghttp2. I expect there to be at least one more draft, but perhaps even more, before http2 becomes an official RFC. We hope to be able to stay on the frontier of http2 and deliver support for the most recent draft going forward.
PS. If you try any of this and experience any sort of problems, please speak to us on the curl-library mailing list and help us smoothen out whatever problem you got!
There are many, sorry very many, different SSL libraries today that various programs may want to use. In the open source world at least, it is more and more common that SSL (and other crypto) using programs offer build options to build with either at least OpenSSL or GnuTLS and very often they also offer optinal build with NSS and possibly a few other SSL libraries.
So, a common problem should be able to find a common solution. What if we fixed this in a way that would be possible for many projects to re-use? What if one project’s ability to select from 9 different provider libraries could be leveraged by others. A single SSL API with a simplified API but that still provides the functionality most “simple” SSL-using applications need?
Marc Hörsken and I have discussed this a bit, and pidgin/libpurble came up as a possible contender that could use such a single SSL. I’ve also talked about it with Claes Jakobsson and Magnus Hagander for postgresql and I know since before that wget certainly could use it. When I’ve performed my talks on the seven SSL libraries of libcurl I’ve been approached by several people who have expressed a desire in seeing such an externalized API, and I remember the guys from cyassl among those. I’m sure there will be a few other interested parities as well if this takes off.
What remains to be answered is if it is possible to make it reality in a decent way.
will reduce code from the libcurl code base – in the amount of 10K or more lines of C code, and it should be a decreased amount of “own” code for all projects that would decide to use thins single SSL library
will allow other projects to use one out of many SSL libraries, hopefully benefiting end users as a result
should get more people involved in the code as more projects would use it, hopefully ending up in better tested and polished source code
There are several downsides with a unified library, from the angle of curl/libcurl and myself:
it will undoubtedly lead to more code being added and implemented that curl/libcurl won’t need or use, thus grow the code base and the final binary
the API of the unified library won’t be possible to be as tightly integrated with the libcurl internals as it is today, so there will be some added code and logic needed
it will require that we produce a lot of documentation for all the functions and structs in the API which takes time and effort
the above mention points will deduct time from my other projects (hopefully to benefit others, but still)
Some problems that would have to dealt with:
how to deal with libraries that don’t provide functionality that the single SSL API does
how to draw the line of what functionality to offer in the API, as the individual libraries will always provide richer and more complete APIs
What is actually needed to get the work on this started for real? And if we do, what would we call the project…
PS, I know the term is more accurately “TLS” these days but somehow people (me included) seem to have gotten stuck with the word SSL to cover both SSL and TLS…
At the end of July 2009, Scott Cantor contacted us in the curl project and pointed out a security flaw in libcurl (in code that was using OpenSSL to verify server certificates). Having read his explanation I recalled that I had witnessed the discussion on the NSS list about this problem just a few days earlier (which resulted in their August 1st security advisory). The problem is basically that the cert can at times contain a name with an embedded zero in the middle, while most source code assumes plain C-style strings that ends with a zero. This turns out to be exploitable, and is explained in great detail in this document (PDF).
I started to work on a patch, and in the mean time I talked to Simon Josefsson of the GnuTLS team to see if GnuTLS was fine or not, only to get him confirm that GnuTLS did indeed have the same problem.
So I contacted vendor-sec, and then on the morning of August 5 I thought I’d just make a quick check how the other HTTPS client implementations do their cert checks.
So, Internet Explorer and Firefox were vulnerable. NSS and GnuTLS were. (OpenSSL wasn’t, but then it doesn’t provide this verifying feature by itself) (lib)curl, wget, neon, serf were all vulnerable. If that isn’t a large amount of the existing HTTPS clients then what is? I also think that this shows that it would be good for all of us if OpenSSL had this functionality, as even if it had been vulnerable we could’ve fixed a busload of different applications by repairing a single library. Now we instead need to hunt down all apps that use OpenSSL and that verify certificate names.
Quite clearly we (as implementers) have all had the same silly assumptions, and quite likely we’ve affected each other into doing these sloppy codes. SSL and certificates are over and over again getting hit by this kind of painful flaws and setbacks. Darn, getting things right really is very very hard…
(Disclaimer: I immediately notified the neon and serf projects but to my knowledge they have not yet released any fixed versions.)