CORS OriginHeaderScrutiny

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Introduction

CORS stands for Cross-Origin Resource Sharing.

Is a feature offering the possibility for:

  • A web application to expose resources to all or restricted domain,
  • A web client to make AJAX request for resource on other domain than is source domain.

This article will focus on the role of the Origin header in the exchange between web client and web application.

The basic process is composed of the steps below (sample HTTP request/response has been taken from Mozilla Wiki):

  • Step 1 : Web client sends a request to get a resource from a different domain.
GET /resources/public-data/ HTTP/1.1
Host: bar.other
User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; U; Intel Mac OS X 10.5; en-US; rv:1.9.1b3pre) Gecko/20081130 Minefield/3.1b3pre
Accept: text/html,application/xhtml+xml,application/xml;q=0.9,*/*;q=0.8
Accept-Language: en-us,en;q=0.5
Accept-Encoding: gzip,deflate
Accept-Charset: ISO-8859-1,utf-8;q=0.7,*;q=0.7
Connection: keep-alive
Referer: http://foo.example/examples/access-control/simpleXSInvocation.html
Origin: http://foo.example

[Request Body]

The web client tells the server its source domain using the HTTP request header "Origin".

  • Step 2 : Web application response to request.
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Date: Mon, 01 Dec 2008 00:23:53 GMT
Server: Apache/2.0.61 
Keep-Alive: timeout=2, max=100
Connection: Keep-Alive
Transfer-Encoding: chunked
Content-Type: application/xml
Access-Control-Allow-Origin: *

[Response Body]

The web application informs the web client of the allowed domains using the HTTP response header Access-Control-Allow-Origin. The header can contains either a '*' to indicate that all domains are allowed OR a specified domain to indicate the specified allowed domain.

  • Step 3 : Web client process web application response.

According to the CORS W3C specification, it's up to the web client (usually a browser) to determine, using the web application response HTTP header Access-Control-Allow-Origin, if the web client is allowed to access response data.

Risk

A reminder : This article will focus on the web application side because it's the only part in which we have the maximum of control.

The risk here is that a web client can put any value into the Origin request HTTP header in order to force web application to provide it the target resource content. In the case of a Browser web client, the header value is managed by the browser but another "web client" can be used (like Curl/Wget/Burp suite/...) to change/override the "Origin" header value. For this reason it is not recommended to use the Origin header to authenticate requests as coming from your site.

Countermeasure

Enable authentication on the resources accessed and require that the user/application credentials be passed with the CORS requests.

It is not possible to be 100% certain that any request comes from an expected client application, since all information of a HTTP request can be faked.

Informations links