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PHP Peculiarities for ModSecurity Users

As I was reviewing the ModSecurity 2.1.0-rc7 Reference Manual I realised it did not contain some very important sections we had in the previous (ModSecurity 1.9.x) manual - those on web application firewall impedance mismatch and PHP peculiarities. Impedance mismatch is a well known problem where, because web application firewalls interpret input data independently from the systems they are protecting, there is a danger of information slipping through because of different interpretations. PHP is especially vulnerable to this issue because the engine was designed to be error friendly and "helpful".

For many years now my policy was to try to document the evasion possibilities and to lay the responsibility on the ModSecurity user to read the manual. I have now decided to make the issue more visible. To start with, here's the part from the 1.9.x manual that is relevant to PHP:

  1. When "register_globals" is set to "On" request parameters are automatically converted to script variables. In some PHP versions it is even possible to override the $GLOBALS array.

  2. Whitespace at the beginning of parameter names is ignored. (This is very dangerous if you are writing rules to target specific named variables.)

  3. The remaining whitespace (in parameter names) is converted to underscores. The same applies to dots and to a "[" if the variable name does not contain a matching closing bracket. (Meaning that if you want to exploit a script through a variable that contains an underscore in the name you can send a parameter with a whitespace or a dot instead.)

  4. Cookies can be treated as request parameters.

  5. The discussion about variable names applies equally to the cookie names.

  6. The order in which parameters are taken from the request and the environment is EGPCS (environment, GET, POST, Cookies, built-in variables). This means that a POST parameter will overwrite the parameters transported on the request line (in QUERY_STRING).

  7. When "magic_quotes_gpc" is set to "On" PHP will use backslash to escape the following characters: single quote, double quote, backslash, and the null byte.

  8. If "magic_quotes_sybase" is set to "On" only the single quote will be escaped using another single quote. In this case the "magic_quotes_gpc" setting becomes irrelevant. The "magic_quotes_sybase" setting completely overrides the "magic_quotes_gpc" behaviour but "magic_quotes_gpc" still must be set to "On" for the Sybase-specific quoting to be work.

  9. PHP will also automatically create nested arrays for you. For example "p[x][y]=1" results in a total of three variables.

(Update Feb 7) Jakub Vrna wrote to clarify that "magic_quotes_gpc" must be "On" for "magic_quotes_sybase" to work. Thanks! This is now fixed. Jakub has a post in Czech on a similar topic.

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