A path traversal attack (also known as directory traversal) aims to access files and directories that are stored outside the web root folder. By manipulating variables that reference files with “dot-dot-slash (../)” sequences and its variations or by using absolute file paths, it may be possible to access arbitrary files and directories stored on file system including application source code or configuration and critical system files. It should be noted that access to files is limited by system operational access control (such as in the case of locked or in-use files on the Microsoft Windows operating system).
This attack is also known as “dot-dot-slash”, “directory traversal”, “directory climbing” and “backtracking”.
Related Security Activities
How to Avoid Path Traversal Vulnerabilities
All but the most simple web applications have to include local resources, such as images, themes, other scripts, and so on. Every time a resource or file is included by the application, there is a risk that an attacker may be able to include a file or remote resource you didn’t authorize.
How to identify if you are vulnerable
- Be sure you understand how the underlying operating system will process filenames handed off to it.
- Don’t store sensitive configuration files inside the web root
- For Windows IIS servers, the web root should not be on the system disk, to prevent recursive traversal back to system directories.
How to protect yourself
- Prefer working without user input when using file system calls
- Use indexes rather than actual portions of file names when templating or using language files (ie value 5 from the user submission = Czechoslovakian, rather than expecting the user to return “Czechoslovakian”)
- Ensure the user cannot supply all parts of the path – surround it with your path code
- Validate the user’s input by only accepting known good – do not sanitize the data
- Use chrooted jails and code access policies to restrict where the files can be obtained or saved to
- If forced to use user input for file operations, normalize the input before using in file io API’s, such as normalize().
How to Test for Path Traversal Vulnerabilities
Encoding and double encoding:
and so on.
Percent encoding (aka URL encoding)
Note that web containers perform one level of decoding on percent encoded values from forms and URLs.
Root directory: “ / “ Directory separator: “ / “
Root directory: “ <partition letter> : \ “ Directory separator: “ / “ or “ \ ” Note that windows allows filenames to be followed by extra . \ / characters.
In many operating systems, null bytes
%00 can be injected to terminate the filename. For example, sending a parameter like:
will result in the Java application seeing a string that ends with “.pdf” and the operating system will see a file that ends in “.doc”. Attackers may use this trick to bypass validation routines.
The following examples show how the application deals with the resources in use.
http://some_site.com.br/get-files.jsp?file=report.pdf http://some_site.com.br/get-page.php?home=aaa.html http://some_site.com.br/some-page.asp?page=index.html
In these examples it’s possible to insert a malicious string as the variable parameter to access files located outside the web publish directory.
http://some_site.com.br/get-files?file=../../../../some dir/some file http://some_site.com.br/../../../../some dir/some file
The following URLs show examples of *NIX password file exploitation.
Note: In a Windows system an attacker can navigate only in a partition that locates web root while in the Linux they can navigate in the whole disk.
It’s also possible to include files and scripts located on external website.
These examples illustrate a case when an attacker made the server show the CGI source code.
This example was extracted from: Wikipedia - Directory Traversal
A typical example of vulnerable application code is:
<?php $template = 'blue.php'; if ( is_set( $_COOKIE['TEMPLATE'] ) ) $template = $_COOKIE['TEMPLATE']; include ( "/home/users/phpguru/templates/" . $template ); ?>
An attack against this system could be to send the following HTTP request:
GET /vulnerable.php HTTP/1.0 Cookie: TEMPLATE=../../../../../../../../../etc/passwd
Generating a server response such as:
HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Server: Apache root:fi3sED95ibqR6:0:1:System Operator:/:/bin/ksh daemon:*:1:1::/tmp: phpguru:f8fk3j1OIf31.:182:100:Developer:/home/users/phpguru/:/bin/csh
../ characters after
caused include() to
traverse to the root directory, and then include the UNIX password file
etc/passwd is a common file used to demonstrate directory
traversal, as it is often used by crackers to try cracking the
Absolute Path Traversal
The following URLs may be vulnerable to this attack:
http://testsite.com/get.php?f=list http://testsite.com/get.cgi?f=2 http://testsite.com/get.asp?f=test
An attacker can execute this attack like this:
http://testsite.com/get.php?f=/var/www/html/get.php http://testsite.com/get.cgi?f=/var/www/html/admin/get.inc http://testsite.com/get.asp?f=/etc/passwd
When the web server returns information about errors in a web application, it is much easier for the attacker to guess the correct locations (e.g. path to the file with a source code, which then may be displayed).