safer Python with types for untrusted input
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README.md

Untrusted: safer Python with types for untrusted input

The most common web application security weakness is the failure to properly validate input from the client or environment.

OWASP, Data Validation (2 July 2017)

Failure to properly handle untrusted input leaves an application vulnerable to Code Injection attacks, such as Cross Site Scripting (XSS). "Some form of visible tainting on input from the client or untrusted sources" is one countermeasure recommended by OWASP, as part of a strategy of Defence in Depth.

This Python module "taints" untrusted input by wrapping them in special types. These types behave in most respects just like native Python types, but prevent you from using their values accidentally. This provides not just "visible tainting", but runtime guarantees and statically-verifiable type safety.

Strategies for sanitizing, escaping, normalising or validating input are out of scope for this module.

Status

This module should be suitable for production use, with the following caveats:

  • TODO untrusted.sequence type is missing tests and may be incomplete
  • TODO untrusted.mapping type is missing tests and may be incomplete
  • TODO unstrusted.<*>Of is not fully tested
  • TODO statically-verifiable type safety has not been tested

Any code with security considerations deserves the highest standards of scrutiny. Please exercise your judgement before using this module.

Quickstart

Tested for Python >= 3.4, but earlier versions may work.

Get Untrusted

sudo pip3 install untrusted --upgrade

(If you only have python3 installed, you may need only pip - not pip3)

Try it!

import html # for html.escape
import untrusted

line = untrusted.string(input("Enter some text, HTML will be escaped: "))

try:
    # You're not allowed to print an untrusted.string!
    # This raises a TypeError!
    print("<b>You typed:</b> " + line)
except TypeError:
    pass # Expected

# Safely escape the HTML!
print("<b>You typed:</b> " + line / html.escape)

# / is overloaded as shorthand for:
# print("<b>You typed:</b> " + line.escape(html.escape))

Overview

The untrusted.string type

  • Looks and feels like a str type, but can't be output without escaping
  • Seamlessly interoperable with native str types
  • Mixed usage of native str and untrusted.string taints str values/promotes them to untrusted.string types.

Example of handling untrusted HTML:

import html # for html.escape()
import untrusted

# example of a string that could be provided by an untrusted user
firstName = untrusted.string("Grace")
lastName = untrusted.string("<script>alert('hack attempt!');</script>")

# works seamlessly with native python strings
fullName = firstName + " " + lastName

# fullName was tainted and keeps the untrusted.string type
print(repr(fullName)) # <untrusted.string of length 46>

# the normal string methods still work as you would expect
fullName = fullName.title()

# but you can't accidentally use it where a `str` is expected
try:
    print(fullName) # raises TypeError - untrusted.string used as a `str`!
    fullName.encode('utf8') # also raises TypeError
except TypeError:
    print("We caught an error, as expected!")

# instead, you are forced to explicitly escape your string somehow
print("<b>Escaped output:</b> " + fullName.escape(html.escape)) # prints safe HTML!
print("<b>Escaped output:</b> " + fullName / html.escape) # use this easy shorthand!

See untrustedStringExample.py for composing multiple escape functions, passing arguments to escape functions, etc.

Untrusted collection types

This module provides types to lazily wrap collections of untrusted values. The values are wrapped with an appropriate untrusted.* type when accessed.

untrusted.iterator

  • This is a view over any iterable or generator yielding untrusted values.
  • It only yields values wrapped by an untrusted.* type
  • Usually this is an untrusted.string but it can also be an iterator over untrusted collections

Example:

import html # for html.escape
import untrusted

it = untrusted.iterator(open("example.txt"))

for i, s in enumerate(it):
    print("Line %d: %s" % (i, s.escape(html.escape).strip()))

See examples/untrustedIteratorExample.py for an untrusted nested list (e.g. an untrusted.iterator of untrusted.iterator of untrusted.string).

untrusted.sequence

  • This is a view over any list-like object containing untrusted values.
  • All accessed values are wrapped by an untrusted.* type
  • Usually this is an untrusted.string but it can also be an iterator over untrusted collections

Example:

import html # for html.escape
import untrusted

# list of strings from an untrusted source
animals = ["cat", "dog", "monkey", "elephant", "<big>mouse</big>"]

untrustedAnimalList = untrusted.sequence(animals)

assert "cat" in untrustedAnimalList

untrusted.mapping

  • This is a view over any dict-like object mapping trusted or untrusted keys to untrusted values.
  • All accessed values, and optionally keys, are wrapped by an untrusted.* type.
  • Usually this is a mapping str -> untrusted.string, but it could also be a mapping unstrusted.string -> untrusted.string, or a mapping to an untrusted collection.

Example:

import html # for html.escape
import untrusted

user = untrusted.mapping({
    'username': 'example-username<b>hack attempt</b>',
    'password': 'example-password',
})

try:
    print(user.get("username")) 
except TypeError:
    print("Caught the error we expected!")

print(user.get("username", "default-username") / html.escape)

Example:

import html # for html.escape
import untrusted

untrustedType = untrusted.mappingOf(untrusted.string, untrusted.string)

args = untrustedType({'animal': 'cat', '<b>hack</b>': 'attempt'})

for k,v in args.items():
    print("%s: %s" % (k / html.escape, v / html.escape))

Custom and Nested Containers

Lazily nested containers are fully supported, too.

Use untrusted.iteratorOf(valueType), untrusted.sequenceOf(valueType), or untrusted.mappingOf(keyType, valueType) to create a specific container type.

Example:

import html # for html.escape
import untrusted

people = [
    {
        'id':           'A101',
        'name.first':   'Grace',
        'name.last':    'Hopper',
        'name.other':   'Brewster Murray',
        'dob':          '1906-12-09',
    },
    {
        'id':           'A102',
        'name.first':   'Alan',
        'name.last':    'Turing',
        'name.other':   'Mathison',
        'dob':          '1912-06-23',
    },
    {
        'id':           'HACKER',
        'name.first':   'Robert\'); DROP TABLE Students;--',
        'name.last':    '£Hacker',
        'dob':          '<b>Potato</b>'
    },
]


# a list of dicts with trusted keys, but untrusted values
mappingType = untrusted.sequenceOf(untrusted.mapping)

# aka (setting defaults explicitly)
mappingType = untrusted.sequenceOf(untrusted.mappingOf(str, untrusted.string))


for person in mappingType(people):
    for key, value in person.items():
        print("    %s: %s" % (key, value.escape(html.escape)))

Usage

untrusted.string

Supports most native str methods, but may possibly have different return types.

untrusted.string.value property

The underlying value - always a non-None instance of str.

untrusted.string()

untrusted.string(s)

Constructs a untrusted.string object, where s is a non-None instance of str or untrusted.string.

In the case of an untrusted.string being constructed with an untrusted.string argument, the new value is only wrapped once. Escaping it will give a str, not an untrusted.string.

untrusted.string.escape()

untrusted.string.escape(escape_function, [*args, **kwargs]) -> str

Applies the escape_function, a function str -> str that escapes a string and returns it, with optional arguments and keyword arguments.

untrusted.string.valid()

untrusted.string.valid(valid_function, [*args, **kwargs]) -> bool

Applies the valid_function, a function str -> bool, that checks a string and returns True or False, with optional arguments and keyword arguments.

untrusted.string.validate()

untrusted.string.valid(validate_function, [*args, **kwargs]) -> any

Applies the valid_function, a function str -> any, that checks a string and returns any value (e.g. a list of reasons why a string did not validate), with optional arguments and keyword arguments.

Overload: untrusted.string / escape_expr

For some escape expression, untrusted.string("value") / escape_expr -> str

An escape_expr here is either a function str -> str that escapes a string, or a 3-tuple (escape_function, args, kwargs_dict), for example:

import html # for html.escape
import untrusted

myString = untrusted.string("<b>Exam\"ple</b>")
myEscape = (html.escape, [], {'quote': False})

print(myString / html.escape)
print(myString / myEscape)

untrusted.<collection>

Where collection is one of iterator, sequence (list-like), mapping (dict-like), or a user-constructed custom type.

Supports most native collection methods, but may possibly have different return types.

Each collection is aware of its Value Type (default untrusted.string).

Mappings are also aware of their Key Type (default str)

untrusted.<collection>.value property

The underlying value - always a non-None object that is an instance of the collection's Value Type.

untrusted.<collection> Type Constructors

Create an iterator type using untrusted.iteratorOf(type).

Create a sequence type using untrusted.sequenceOf(type).

Create a mapping type using untrusted.sequenceOf(keyType, valueType).

These definitions are recursive.

For example:

import untrusted

itType = untrusted.iteratorOf(untrusted.iteratorOf(untrusted.string))
seqType = untrusted.sequenceOf(itType)
mappingType = untrusted.mappingOf(untrusted.string, seqType)

someDict = {}
myMapping = mappingType(someDict)

# or, as a less readable one-liner
myMapping = untrusted.mappingOf(untrusted.string, seqType)(someDict)

Notes of Caution

Different contexts

Remember, just because you have used one method to escape an untrusted.string into a str, it may not be safe in other contexts. For example, what's safe for HTML might still be dangerous SQL. At the time user input is captured, it may not be known in advance the context in which it is to be used - and therefore it is not yet known what is the correct validation and escaping strategy. It's best to delay the escaping until the final point of use - keep a value as untrusted.* for as long as possible.

This module isn't a magic solution. It's a tool to be used wisely. Don't fall into the trap of thinking about a value "it's a str now so it's completely safe".

Escaping vs validation

Just because a string can be escaped safely, it does not mean that it has been validated as allowable input. For example, you might put a minimum limit on a password. Or you might require that an input isn't a reserved filename.

Nice ways to do this are to use unstruted.string.valid method, which returns a boolean, untrusted.string.validate method, which returns any value (e.g. this might be a list of reasons why the input didn't valdiate), or to throw a ValueError from a function that both escapes and validates.

Use the best tool for the job

Sometimes, you generate HTML yourself and escaping is something you need to do.

Sometimes, an interface always separates parameters from code, like most modern SQL libraries. In this case the database driver will handle potentially untrusted input better than you ever could hope to, and escaping it is the wrong thing to do.

You might mark the input as untrusted for other reasons - e.g. to enforce a maximum length on a search query, or because you need to validate it against business logic.

The untrusted collection types are views, not copies

Untrusted collection types, like untrusted.sequence, are "views" over the underling object. If the underlying object changes, so does the object you see through the untrusted collection type. In other words: its a reference to the same object, not a copy. If that's not what you want, use the copy module.

This should hopefully be obvious and unsuprising behaviour, not at all unique to this module, but it can trip people up.

License

This is free software (MIT license).

untrusted - write safer Python with special untrusted types

Copyright © 2017 - 2018 Ben Golightly <ben@tawesoft.co.uk>
Copyright © 2017 - 2018 Tawesoft Ltd <opensource@tawesoft.co.uk>

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy
of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal
in the Software without restriction,  including without limitation the rights
to use,  copy, modify,  merge,  publish, distribute, sublicense,  and/or sell
copies  of  the  Software,  and  to  permit persons  to whom  the Software is
furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:

The above copyright notice  and this permission notice  shall be  included in
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LIABILITY, WHETHER IN AN ACTION OF CONTRACT, TORT OR OTHERWISE, ARISING FROM,
OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE SOFTWARE OR THE USE OR OTHER DEALINGS IN THE
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