Tag Archives: OpenSSL

case insensitive string comparisons in C

Back in 2008, I had a revelation when it dawned on me that the POSIX function called strcasecmp() compares strings case insensitively, but locale dependent. Because of this, “file” and “FILE” is not actually a case insensitive match in Turkish but is a match in most other locales. curl would sometimes fail in mysterious ways due to this. Mysterious to the users, now we know why.

Of course this behavior was no secret. The knowledge about this problem was widespread already then. It was just me who hadn’t realized this yet.

A custom replacement

To work around that problem for curl, we immediately implemented our own custom comparison replacement function that doesn’t care about locales. Internet protocols work the same way no matter which locale the user happens to prefer.

We did not go the POSIX route. The POSIX function for case insensitive string comparisons that ignores the locale is called strcasecmp_l() but that uses a special locale argument and also doesn’t exist on non-POSIX platforms.

curl has used its custom set of functions since 7.19.1, released in early November 2008.

OpenSSL 3.0.3

Fast forward to May 2022. OpenSSL released their version 3.0.3. In the change-log for this release we learned that they now offer public functions for case insensitive string comparisons. Whatdoyouknow! They too have learned about the Turkish locale. Apparently to the degree that they feel they need to offer those functions in their already super-huge API set. Oh well, that is certainly their choice.

I can relate since we too have such functions in libcurl, but I have always regretted that we added them to the API since comparing strings is not libcurl’s core business. We did wrong then and we still live with the consequences several decades later.

OpenSSL however took the POSIX route and based their implementation on strcasecmp_l() and use a global variable for the locale and an elaborate system to initialize that global and even a way to make things work if string comparisons are needed before that global variable is initialized etc.

This new system was complicated to the degree that it broke the library on several platforms, which curl users running Windows 7 figured out almost instantly. curl with OpenSSL 3.0.3 simply does not work on Windows 7 – at all.

Reasons for not exposing a string compare API

Libraries should only provide functions that are within their core objective. Not fluffy might be useful things. Reasons for this include:

  • It adds to the complexity to users. Yet another function in the ever expanding set of function calls in the API.
  • It increases the documentation size even more and makes the real things harder to find somewhere in there.
  • It adds “attack surface” and areas where you can make errors and introduce security problems.
  • You get more work since now you have additional functions to keep ABI and API stable for all eternity and you have to spend developer time and effort on making sure they remain so.

Do a custom one for OpenSSL?

I think there is a software law that goes something like this

eventually, all C libraries implement their own case insensitive string comparison functions

When I proposed they should implement their own custom function in discussions in one of the issues about this OpenSSL problem, the suggestion was shot down fairly quickly because of how hard it is to implement a such function that is as fast as the glibc version.

In my ears, that sounds like they prefer to stick with an overworked and complicated error-prone system, because an underlying function is faster, rather than going with simplicity and functionality at the price of sightly slower performance. In fairness, they say that case insensitive string comparisons are “6-7%” of the time spent in some (to me unknown) performance test they referred to. I have no way or intention to argue with that.

I think maybe they couldn’t really handle that idea from an outsider and they might just need a little more time to figure out the right way forward on their own. Then go with simple.

I am of course not in the best position to say how they should act on this. I’m just a spectator here. I may be completely wrong.

Update (May 23)

In a separate PR (4 days after this blog post went live), OpenSSL suddenly implemented their own and it was deemed that it would not hurt performance noticeably. Merged on May 23. Almost like they followed my recommendation!

OpenSSL’s current tolower() implementation used in the comparison function is similar to curl’s old one so I suspect curl’s current function is a tad bit faster.

Custom vs glibc performance

glibc truly has really fast string comparison implementations, with optimized assembly versions for the common architectures. Versions written in plain C tend to be slower.

However, the API and way to use those functions to make them locale independent is horrific because of the way it forces the caller to provide a locale argument (which could be the “C” locale – the equivalent of no locale).

The curl custom function

That talk about the slowness of custom string functions made us start discussing this topic a little in the curl IRC channel and we bounced around some ideas of what things the curl function does not already do and what it could do and how it compares against the glibc assembly version.

Also: the string comparisons in curl are certainly not that performance critical as they seem to be in OpenSSL and while used a lot in curl they are not used in the most important performance critical transfer-data code paths.

Optimizations

Frank Gevaerts took the lead and after some rounds and discussions backed up with tests, he ended up with an updated function that is 1.6 to 1.7 times faster than before his work. We dropped non-ASCII support in curl a while ago, which also made this task more straight-forward.

The two improvements:

  1. Use a lookup table for our own toupper() implementation instead of the previous simple condition + math.
  2. Better end of loop handling: return immediately on mismatch, and a minor touch-up of the final check when the loop goes all the way to the end.

Measurements

The glibc assembler versions are still faster than curl’s custom functions and the exact speed improvements the above mentioned changes provide will of course depend both on platform and the test set.

Ships in 7.84.0

The faster libcurl functions will ship in curl 7.84.0. I doubt anyone will notice the difference!

The QUIC API OpenSSL will not provide

In a world that is now gradually adopting HTTP/3 (which, as you know, is implemented over QUIC), the problem with the missing API for QUIC is still a key problem.

There are a number of existing QUIC library implementation now since a few years back, and they are slowly maturing. The QUIC protocol became RFC 9000 and friends, but the most popular TLS libraries still don’t provide the necessary APIs to make QUIC libraries possible to use them.

Example that makes people want HTTP/3

Example tweet of what makes people keen on experimenting and deploying HTTP/3.

OpenSSL PR8797

For a long time, many people and projects (including yours truly) in the QUIC community were eagerly following the OpenSSL Pull Request 8797, which introduced the necessary QUIC APIs into OpenSSL. This change brought the same API to OpenSSL that BoringSSL already provides and as such the API has already been used and tested out by several independent implementations.

Implementations have a problem to ship to the world based on BoringSSL since that’s a TLS library without versions and proper releases, so it is not a good choice for the big wide world. OpenSSL is already the most widely used TLS library out there and lots of applications are already made to use that.

Delays made quictls happen

The OpenSSL PR8797 was delayed back in February 2020 on when the OpenSSL management committee (OMC) decreed that they would not deal with that PR until after their pending 3.0.0 release had shipped.

“It is our expectation that once the 3.0 release is done, QUIC will become a significant focus of our effort.”

OpenSSL then proceeded and their 3.0.0 release was delayed significantly compared to their initial time schedule.

In March 2021, Microsoft and Akamai announced quictls, an OpenSSL fork with the express idea to ship OpenSSL + the QUIC API. They didn’t want to wait for OpenSSL to do it.

Several QUIC libraries can now use quictls. quictls has kept their fork up to date and now offers the equivalent of OpenSSL 3.0.0 + the QUIC API.

While we’ve been waiting for OpenSSL to adopt the API.

OpenSSL makes a turn instead

Then came the next blow to everyone’s expectations. An autumn surprise. On October 13, the OpenSSL OMC announces:

The focus for the next releases is QUIC, with the objective of providing a fully functional QUIC implementation over a series of releases (2-3).

OpenSSL has decided to implement a complete QUIC stack on their own and with the given time line it sounds like it will take them a few years (?) to ship. And instead of providing the API lots of implementers have been been waiting for so long, they explicitly say that it is a non-goal at the start:

The MVP will not contain a library API for an HTTP/3 implementation (it is a non-goal of the initial release).

I didn’t write my own QUIC implementation but I’ve followed the work of several of the implementations fairly closely and it is fairly complicated journey they set out for themselves – for very unclear reasons. There already exist several high quality QUIC libraries, why does OpenSSL think they need to make yet another one? They seem to be overloaded with work already before, which the long delays of the 3.0.0 release seemed to show, how are they going to be able to add a complete new stack implementation of top of this? The future will tell.

PR8797 closed

On October 20 2021, the pull request that was created in April 2019, is finally closed for real as a “won’t fix”.

Screenshot of the actual closing of the PR

Where are we now?

The lack of a QUIC API in OpenSSL has held us back and with this move from OpenSSL, it will continue to hold us back for an uncertain amount of time going forward.

QUIC stacks will have to stick to using or switching to other libraries.

I’m disappointed.

James Snell, one of the key contributors on the QUIC and HTTP/3 work in nodejs tweeted:

Credits

Image by Marzena P. from Pixabay

Please select your TLS

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.

Building curl

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.

TLS backends supported in curl, over time

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).

The list of available TLS backends is sorted alphabetically.

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.

Credits

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Where is HTTP/3 right now?

tldr: the level of HTTP/3 support in servers is surprisingly high.

The specs

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.

HTTP/3 Usage

In early April 2021, the usage of QUIC and HTTP/3 in the world is measured by a few different companies.

QUIC support

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.

The last 30 days according to radar.cloudflare.com

This HTTP/3 number is significantly lower than w3techs’. Presumably because of the differences in how they measure.

Clients

The browsers

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

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.

Other clients

Facebook has previously talked about how they use HTTP/3 in their app, and presumably others do as well. There are of course also other implementations available.

TLS libraries

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.)

OpenSSL

The by far most popular TLS library to use with curl, OpenSSL, has postponed their QUIC work:

“It is our expectation that once the 3.0 release is done, QUIC will become a significant focus of our effort.”

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?

BoringSSL

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).

quictls

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?

According to cloudflare’s tests, it does, but the difference is not huge.

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?

Future

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.

Updates

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.

BearSSL is curl’s 14th TLS backend

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 beginning

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.

BearSSL

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.

Multi-SSL

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.

Time line

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.

Click the image to enjoy the full resolution version!

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.

Credits

The recently added BearSSL backend was written by Michael Forney. Top image by LEEROY Agency from Pixabay

First HTTP/3 with curl

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!

Early days

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.

Draft what?

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.

Set the right bit with CURLOPT_H3 to get direct connect with QUIC and control how to do alt-svc using libcurl with CURLOPT_ALTSVC and CURLOPT_ALTSVC_CTRL.

All of these marked EXPERIMENTAL still, so they might still change somewhat before they become stabilized.

Update

Starting on August 8, the option is just --http3 and you ask libcurl to use HTTP/3 directly with CURLOPT_HTTP_VERSION.

openssl engine code injection in curl

This flaw is known as CVE-2019-5443.

If you downloaded and installed a curl executable for Windows from the curl project before June 21st 2019, go get an updated one. Now.

On Windows, using OpenSSL

The official curl builds for Windows – that the curl project offers – are built cross-compiled on Linux. They’re made to use OpenSSL by default as the TLS backend, the by far most popular TLS backend by curl users.

The curl project has provided official curl builds for Windows on and off through history, but most recently this has been going on since August 2018.

OpenSSL engines

These builds use OpenSSL. OpenSSL has a feature called “engines”. Described by the project itself like this:

“a component to support alternative cryptography implementations, most commonly for interfacing with external crypto devices (eg. accelerator cards). This component is called ENGINE”

More simply put, an “engine” is a plugin for OpenSSL that can be loaded and run dynamically. The particular engine is activated either built-in or by loading a config file that specifies what to do.

curl and OpenSSL engines

When using curl built with OpenSSL, you can specify an “engine” to use, which in turn allows users to use their dedicated hardware when doing TLS related communications with curl.

By default, the curl tool allows OpenSSL to load a config file and figure out what engines to load at run-time but it also provides a build option to make it possible to build curl/libcurl without the ability to load that config file at run time – which some users want, primarily for security reasons.

The mistakes

The primary mistake in the curl build for Windows that we offered, was that the disabling of the config file loading had a typo which actually made it not disable it (because the commit message had it wrong). The feature was therefore still present and would load the config file if present when curl was invoked, contrary to the intention.

The second mistake comes a little more from the OpenSSL side: by default if you build OpenSSL cross-compiled like we do, the default paths where it looks for the above mentioned config file is under the c:\usr\local tree. It is in fact even complicated and impossible to fix this path in the build without a patch.

What the mistakes enable

A non-privileged user or program (the attacker) with access to the host to put a config file in the directory where curl would look for a config file (and create the directory first as it probably didn’t already exist) and the suitable associated engine code.

Then, when an privileged user subsequently executes curl, it will run with more power and run the code, the engine, the attacker had put there. An engine is a piece of compiled code, it can do virtually anything on the machine.

The fix

Already three days ago, on June 21st, a fixed version of the curl executable for Windows was uploaded to the curl web site (“curl 7.65.1_2”). All older versions that had been provided in the past were removed to reduce the risk of someone still using an old lingering download link.

The fix now makes the curl build switch off the loading of the config file, as was already intended. But also, the OpenSSL build that is used for the build is now modified to only load the config file from a privileged path that isn’t world writable (C:/Windows/System32/OpenSSL/).

Widespread mistake

This problem is very widespread among projects on Windows that use OpenSSL. The curl project coordinated this publication with the postgres project and have worked with OpenSSL to make them improve their default paths. We have also found a few other openssl-using projects that already have fixed their builds for this flaw (like stunnel) but I think we have reason to suspect that there are more vulnerable projects out there still not fixed.

If you know of a project that uses OpenSSL and ships binaries for Windows, give them a closer look and make sure they’re not vulnerable to this.

The cat is already out of the bag

When we got this problem reported, we soon realized it had already been publicly discussed and published for other projects even before we got to know about it. Due to this, we took it to publication as quick as possible to minimize user impact as much as we can.

Only on Windows and only with OpenSSL

This flaw only exists on curl for Windows and only if curl was built to use OpenSSL with this bad path and behavior.

Microsoft ships curl as part of Windows 10, but it does not use OpenSSL and is not vulnerable.

Credits

This flaw was reported to us by Rich Mirch.

The build was fixed by Viktor Szakats.

The image on the blog post comes from pixabay.

QUIC and missing APIs

I trust you’ve heard by now that HTTP/3 is coming. It is the next destined HTTP version, targeted to get published as an RFC in July 2019. Not very far off.

HTTP/3 will not be done over TCP. It will only be performed over QUIC, which is a transport protocol replacement for TCP that always is done encrypted. There’s no clear-text version of QUIC.

TLS 1.3

The encryption in QUIC is based on TLS 1.3 technologies which I believe everyone thinks is a good idea and generally the correct decision. We need to successively raise the bar as we move forward with protocols.

However, QUIC is not only a transport protocol that does encryption by itself while TLS is typically (and designed as) a protocol that is done on top of TCP, it was also designed by a team of engineers who came up with a design that requires APIs from the TLS layer that the traditional TLS over TCP use case doesn’t need!

New TLS APIs

A QUIC implementation needs to extract traffic secrets from the TLS connection and it needs to be able to read/write TLS messages directly – not using the TLS record layer. TLS records are what’s used when we send TLS over TCP. (This was discussed and decided back around the time for the QUIC interim in Kista.)

These operations need APIs that still are missing in for example the very popular OpenSSL library, but also in other commonly used ones like GnuTLS and libressl. And of course schannel and Secure Transport.

Libraries known to already have done the job and expose the necessary mechanisms include BoringSSL, NSS, quicly, PicoTLS and Minq. All of those are incidentally TLS libraries with a more limited number of application users and less mainstream. They’re also more or less developed by people who are also actively engaged in the QUIC protocol development.

The QUIC libraries in progress now are typically using either one of the TLS libraries that already are adapted or do what ngtcp2 does: it hosts a custom-patched version of OpenSSL that brings the needed functionality.

Matt Caswell of the OpenSSL development team acknowledged this situation already back in September 2017, but so far we haven’t seen this result in updated code shipped in a released version.

curl and QUIC

curl is TLS library agnostic and can get built with around 12 different TLS libraries – one or many actually, as you can build it to allow users to select TLS backend in run-time!

OpenSSL is without competition the most popular choice to build curl with outside of the proprietary operating systems like macOS and Windows 10. But even the vendor-build and provided mac and Windows versions are also built with libraries that lack APIs for this.

With our current keen interest in QUIC and HTTP/3 support for curl, we’re about to run into an interesting TLS situation. How exactly is someone going to build curl to simultaneously support both traditional TLS based protocols as well as QUIC going forward?

I don’t have a good answer to this yet. Right now (assuming we would have the code ready in our end, which we don’t), we can’t ship QUIC or HTTP/3 support enabled for curl built to use the most popular TLS libraries! Hopefully by the time we get our code in order, the situation has improved somewhat.

This will slow down QUIC deployment

I’m personally convinced that this little API problem will be friction enough when going forward that it will slow down and hinder QUIC deployment at least initially.

When the HTTP/2 spec shipped in May 2015, it introduced a dependency on the fairly new TLS extension called ALPN that for a long time caused head aches for server admins since ALPN wasn’t supported in the OpenSSL versions that was typically installed and used at the time, but you had to upgrade OpenSSL to version 1.0.2 to get that supported.

At that time, almost four years ago, OpenSSL 1.0.2 was already released and the problem was big enough to just upgrade to that. This time, the API we’re discussing here is not even in a beta version of OpenSSL and thus hasn’t been released in any version yet. That’s far worse than the HTTP/2 situation we had and that took a few years to ride out.

Will we get these APIs into an OpenSSL release to test before the QUIC specification is done? If the schedule sticks, there’s about six months left…

Get the CA cert for curl

When you use curl to communicate with a HTTPS site (or any other protocol that uses TLS), it will by default verify that the server is signed by a trusted Certificate Authority (CA). It does this by checking the CA bundle it was built to use, or instructed to use with the –cacert command line option.

Sometimes you end up in a situation where you don’t have the necessary CA cert in your bundle. It could then look something like this:

$ curl https://example.com/
curl: (60) SSL certificate problem: self signed certificate
More details here: https://curl.haxx.se/docs/sslcerts.html

Do not disable!

A first gut reaction could be to disable the certificate check. Don’t do that. You’ll just make that end up in production or get copied by someone else and then you’ll spread the insecure use to other places and eventually cause a security problem.

Get the CA cert

I’ll show you four different ways to fix this.

1. Update your OS CA store

Operating systems come with a CA bundle of their own and on most of them, curl is setup to use the system CA store. A system update often makes curl work again.

This of course doesn’t help you if you have a self-signed certificate or otherwise use a CA that your operating system doesn’t have in its trust store.

2. Get an updated CA bundle from us

curl can be told to use a separate stand-alone file as CA store, and conveniently enough curl provides an updated one on the curl web site. That one is automatically converted from the one Mozilla provides for Firefox, updated daily. It also provides a little backlog so the ten most recent CA stores are available.

If you agree to trust the same CAs that Firefox trusts. This is a good choice.

3. Get it with openssl

Now we’re approaching the less good options. It’s way better to get the CA certificates via other means than from the actual site you’re trying to connect to!

This method uses the openssl command line tool. The servername option used below is there to set the SNI field, which often is necessary to tell the server which actual site’s certificate you want.

$ echo quit | openssl s_client -showcerts -servername server -connect server:443 > cacert.pem

A real world example, getting the certs for daniel.haxx.se and then getting the main page with curl using them:

$ echo quit | openssl s_client -showcerts -servername daniel.haxx.se -connect daniel.haxx.se:443 > cacert.pem

$ curl --cacert cacert.pem https://daniel.haxx.se
4. Get it with Firefox

Suppose you’re browsing the site already fine with Firefox. Then you can do inspect it using the browser and export to use with curl.

Step 1 – click the i in the circle on the left of the URL in the address bar of your browser.

Step 2 – click the right arrow on the right side in the drop-down window that appeared.

Step 3 – new contents appeared, now click the “More Information” at the bottom, which pops up a new separate window…

Step 4 – Here you get security information from Firefox about the site you’re visiting. Click the “View Certificate” button on the right. It pops up yet another separate window.

Step 5 – in this window full of certificate information, select the “Details” tab…

Step 6 – when switched to the details tab, there’s the certificate hierarchy shown at the top and we select the top choice there. This list will of course look different for different sites

Step 7 – now click the “Export” tab at the bottom left and save the file (that uses a .crt extension) somewhere suitable.

If you for example saved the exported certificate using in /tmp, you could then use curl with that saved certificate something like this:

$ curl --cacert /tmp/GlobalSignRootCA-R3.crt https://curl.se

But I’m not using openssl!

This description assumes you’re using a curl that uses a CA bundle in the PEM format, which not all do – in particular not the ones built with NSS, Schannel (native Windows) or Secure Transport (native macOS and iOS) don’t.

If you use one of those, you need to then add additional command to import the PEM formatted cert into the particular CA store of yours.

A CA store is many PEM files concatenated

Just concatenate many different PEM files into a single file to create a CA store with multiple certificates.

Play TLS 1.3 with curl

The IESG recently approved the TLS 1.3 draft-28 for proposed standard and we can expect the real RFC for this protocol version to appear soon (within a few months probably).

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:

  • OpenSSL
  • BoringSSL
  • libressl
  • NSS
  • WolfSSL
  • Secure Transport (on iOS 11 or later, and macOS 10.13 or later)

GnuTLS seems to be well on their way too. TLS 1.3 support exists in the GnuTLS master branch on gitlab.

curl’s TLS 1.3-support makes it possible to select TLS 1.3 as preferred minimum version.