Gzip middleware for django that protects (hopefully) against BREACH
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Django gzip middleware replacement that protects against SSL BREACH by randomizing the length of the compressed stream.

See Django's BREACH ticket and pull request.


Install breach buster

$ pip install breach_buster

Open your settings.py file in an editor and modify it to


replace django's GzipMiddleware with breach buster's.


Detailed Explanation

BREACH is a side channel attack that takes advantage of a well known characteristic of data compression: files that are similar to each other will tend to be smaller.

Let's take a look at what that means. In the code below we feed two sentences to the zlib compressor. Both sentences are the same length, except that the latter replaces dog with fox, a string that was already used.

>>> import zlib
>>> len(zlib.compress('The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog'))
>>> len(zlib.compress('The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy fox'))

The later compresses to 3 bytes less than the former. You might be thinking "That's a bad example, the so called compression made the file larger". True, but the same applies to larger files as well. Let's try again with a longer example.

Here we download a copy of the Wikipedia article on the Communist Manifesto. To prepare two files that are different, we append the word "Proletariat" to one file and to "Adirondacks" (less likely to appear) to the other.

>>> import zlib, urllib2 
>>> prose = urllib2.urlopen("http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm").read()

>>> proletariat = prose + "Proletariat"
>>> adirondacks = prose + "Adirondacks"
>>> len(proletariat)
>>> len(adirondacks)
>>> len(zlib.compress(proletariat))
>>> len(zlib.compress(adirondacks))

We can see the file with Proletariat added is smaller than the file with Adriondacks added.

So how does BREACH take advantage of this?

It is assumed an attacker using BREACH has three abilities.

First, we assume the attacker has the ability to monitor the victim's internet connection. This can happen in many ways. The attacker can sniff the victim's local wifi or ethernet connection, or they might work for the victim's ISP. All they need to do is measure the length of each response returned to the victim's machine.

Secondly, we assume the attacker has some way of coercing the victim's browser to load URLs at will. We assume this does not mean the attacker can see the content that comes back - if so, this entire exercise would be moot.

Third, the page must be willing to return information passed to it by the client. This entire attack depends on the ability to inject data into the HTTP content. Normally this isn't too hard - perhaps there is a form field the web server will happily fill for you? Your name or something?

It is important to stress that the attacker must know what they are looking for. This attack cannot give us the contents of the page; it can only betray a small piece. If the attacker has already visited this site and knows the secret to be in a field called "uber_secret_api_key=<8 digit hexadecimal number>", then this attack will work. Otherwise, the attacker cannot coerce the browser to make a copy of the page without the secrets they are looking for.

There are multiple ways to achieve the three requirements.

  • The attacker could intercept non-encrypted web traffic and inject some HTML: <img href="http://victimsbank.com/...">
  • The attacker could setup a transparent web proxy in their employer's data cabinet.
  • The attacker could email the target a link to a website of prurient interests to entice clicks.

Nothing I describe here is too hard to come by for a moderately sophisticated geek. And with this in mind we're going to build a BREACH attack.

Let's Breach

Before we do, let's talk about what we won't be doing. This isn't a lesson on coercing browsers to send URLs or sniffing Wifi, so we're going to cheat. This example won't use SSL or a browser. It's a demonstration, an educational tool, and not a fully weaponized attack platform for script kiddies.

Let's install breach_buster.

$ pip install breach_buster

Now in one window let's open the breach buster web server. It has two pages, /good and /bad. Each contains a CSRF key called "CSRF" that refers to a 16 digit sequence of lower case letters or underscores. Both urls use gzip content encoding; the /bad emulates django's gzip content coinciding strategy. /good uses breach_buster's content encoding.

Let's run the breach_buster_demo_server and put it in the background:

$ breach_buster_demo_server &

This server is also very friendly; the returned content will call you by name if provided a parameter called "name." This is how we inject content into the site.

Open a window to your python interpreter and let's start writing a bit of code.

>>> import urllib2 
>>> def length(name):
...     return len(urllib2.urlopen('' + name).read())

The breach_buster_demo_server and urllib2 both have convenient bugs for this project. breach_buster_demo_server doesn't check if the client supports gzip encoding before using it. urllib2 doesn't support gzip encoding. The call to .read returns the compressed data content directly off the wire.

>>> length('')

Let's try adding a few strings.

>>> length('foobar')

>>> length('elephant')

>>> length('do_something?CSRF=')

We expect do_something?CSRF= to add relatively little data proportional to the length of the added string because this string already exists in the output.

Let's try all possible combinations of first letters:

>>> for letter in '0123456789abcdef': print letter, length('do_something?CSRF=' + letter)
0 888
1 888
2 887
3 888
4 888
5 888
6 888
7 888
8 888
9 888
a 887
b 887
c 887
d 887
e 886
f 886

We can see that e and f decrease the size of the string. Let's try adding another letter to both e and f.

>>> for l1 in 'ef':
...     for l2 in '01234566789abcdef': print l1+l2, length('do_something?CSRF=' + l1 + l2)                                                                        

e0 888
e9 888
ea 887
eb 888
ec 888
ed 887
ee 887
ef 888
f0 888
f1 888
f2 887
f3 888
f4 888
f5 888
f6 886
f7 888
f8 888
f9 888
fa 887
fb 887
fc 887
fd 887
fe 886
ff 887

f6 and fe are both excellent ... we could keep on going manually, it's much easier to automate this search. A script to do this for you has been provided in scripts/breach_buster_demo_client

Give it a try:

$ python scripts/breach_busters_demo_client 
(lots and lots of output)

888 f675d2395f243c89 !
Found on try# 12 5200

Try this attack against the breach_buster Gzip middle ware module.

$ python scripts/breach_busters_demo_client --busted 
(lots and lots of output, never ends)

It is obvious from the output the search is failing to converge and will never find the key.

What's happening to cause this? First consider how gzip might be used in an interactive session.

Zlib compression, the underlying library behind gzip, is used for more than file compression. Assuming the data stream you work with is compressible there will be far fewer characters coming out of the compressor than going in. Gzip reads some data, processes this data, and when it has accumulated enough, outputs the same. Sometimes bytes will be read without any bytes being output - by definition, if the file is being compressed this has to happen because you have too few output bytes to have one correspond for each and every input byte.

This can become a problem for command line interaction. Let us consider as a our strawman case Unix's passwd command. The interaction looks something like this:

Old password: secret
New password: soupersekret
New password (again): soupersekret

Within a zlib compressor this entire chunk of text might compress to a single offset to a previously occurring sample. The ideal behavior for the compressor is to hold onto text until it has the best match it can find.

But from a usability perspective this is horrid ... if the old password is being sequestered inside the compressor to see if it might match something better later on, you, as a user would never know what the system expects.

The zlib library has a function called "flush." Flush instructs the compressor to spit out whatever is necessary to ensure the receiver is able to receive and decode all of the date that has been sent to the compressor so far. This function instructs the zlib library to do so even if the resulting output is compressed less efficiently than it otherwise would have been. This usually increases the size of the resulting data stream by a small amount.

The Breach Buster gzip middle ware takes advantage of flush to modify the length of the produced gzip stream without modifying the contents of the data it encodes. By calling flush at random points within the file the size of the generated compressed file is increases slightly by a random amount. This increase in size mitigates the BREACH vulnerability.