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libcurl-security(3) libcurl security libcurl-security(3)
libcurl-security - security considerations when using libcurl
The libcurl project takes security seriously. The library is written
with caution and precautions are taken to mitigate many kinds of risks
encountered while operating with potentially malicious servers on the
Internet. It is a powerful library, however, which allows application
writers to make trade-offs between ease of writing and exposure to
potential risky operations. If used the right way, you can use libcurl
to transfer data pretty safely.
Many applications are used in closed networks where users and servers
can (possibly) be trusted, but many others are used on arbitrary
servers and are fed input from potentially untrusted users. Following
is a discussion about some risks in the ways in which applications
commonly use libcurl and potential mitigations of those risks. It is
not comprehensive, but shows classes of attacks that robust
applications should consider. The Common Weakness Enumeration project
at https://cwe.mitre.org/ is a good reference for many of these and
similar types of weaknesses of which application writers should be
If you use a command line tool (such as curl) that uses libcurl, and
you give options to the tool on the command line those options can get
read by other users of your system when they use ps or other tools to
list currently running processes.
To avoid these problems, never feed sensitive things to programs using
command line options. Write them to a protected file and use the -K
option to avoid this.
.netrc is a pretty handy file/feature that allows you to login quickly
and automatically to frequently visited sites. The file contains
passwords in clear text and is a real security risk. In some cases,
your .netrc is also stored in a home directory that is NFS mounted or
used on another network based file system, so the clear text password
will fly through your network every time anyone reads that file.
For applications that enable .netrc use, a user who manage to set the
right URL might then be possible to pass on passwords.
To avoid these problems, do not use .netrc files and never store
passwords in plain text anywhere.
Clear Text Passwords
Many of the protocols libcurl supports send name and password
unencrypted as clear text (HTTP Basic authentication, FTP, TELNET etc).
It is easy for anyone on your network or a network nearby yours to just
fire up a network analyzer tool and eavesdrop on your passwords. do not
let the fact that HTTP Basic uses base64 encoded passwords fool you.
They may not look readable at a first glance, but they are easily
"deciphered" by anyone within seconds.
To avoid this problem, use an authentication mechanism or other
protocol that does not let snoopers see your password: Digest, CRAM-
MD5, Kerberos, SPNEGO or NTLM authentication. Or even better: use
authenticated protocols that protect the entire connection and
everything sent over it.
Protocols that do not have any form of cryptographic authentication
cannot with any certainty know that they communicate with the right
If your application is using a fixed scheme or fixed host name, it is
not safe as long as the connection is unauthenticated. There can be a
man-in-the-middle or in fact the whole server might have been replaced
by an evil actor.
Unauthenticated protocols are unsafe. The data that comes back to curl
may have been injected by an attacker. The data that curl sends might
be modified before it reaches the intended server. If it even reaches
the intended server at all.
Restrict operations to authenticated transfers
Use authenticated protocols protected with HTTPS or SSH.
Make sure the server's certificate etc is verified
Never ever switch off certificate verification.
The CURLOPT_FOLLOWLOCATION(3) option automatically follows HTTP
redirects sent by a remote server. These redirects can refer to any
kind of URL, not just HTTP. libcurl restricts the protocols allowed to
be used in redirects for security reasons: only HTTP, HTTPS, FTP and
FTPS are enabled by default. Applications may opt to restrict that set
A redirect to a file: URL would cause the libcurl to read (or write)
arbitrary files from the local filesystem. If the application returns
the data back to the user (as would happen in some kinds of CGI
scripts), an attacker could leverage this to read otherwise forbidden
data (e.g. file://localhost/etc/passwd).
If authentication credentials are stored in the ~/.netrc file, or
Kerberos is in use, any other URL type (not just file:) that requires
authentication is also at risk. A redirect such as ftp://some-internal-
server/private-file would then return data even when the server is
In the same way, if an unencrypted SSH private key has been configured
for the user running the libcurl application, SCP: or SFTP: URLs could
access password or private-key protected resources, e.g.
The CURLOPT_REDIR_PROTOCOLS(3) and CURLOPT_NETRC(3) options can be used
to mitigate against this kind of attack.
A redirect can also specify a location available only on the machine
running libcurl, including servers hidden behind a firewall from the
attacker. e.g. http://127.0.0.1/ or http://intranet/delete-
stuff.cgi?delete=all or tftp://bootp-server/pc-config-data
Applications can mitigate against this by disabling
CURLOPT_FOLLOWLOCATION(3) and handling redirects itself, sanitizing
URLs as necessary. Alternately, an app could leave
CURLOPT_FOLLOWLOCATION(3) enabled but set CURLOPT_REDIR_PROTOCOLS(3)
and install a CURLOPT_OPENSOCKETFUNCTION(3) or
CURLOPT_PREREQFUNCTION(3) callback function in which addresses are
sanitized before use.
CRLF in Headers
For all options in libcurl which specify headers, including but not
limited to CURLOPT_HTTPHEADER(3), CURLOPT_PROXYHEADER(3),
CURLOPT_COOKIE(3), CURLOPT_USERAGENT(3), CURLOPT_REFERER(3) and
CURLOPT_RANGE(3), libcurl will send the headers as-is and will not
apply any special sanitation or normalization to them.
If you allow untrusted user input into these options without sanitizing
CRLF sequences in them, someone malicious may be able to modify the
request in a way you did not intend such as injecting new headers.
A user who can control the DNS server of a domain being passed in
within a URL can change the address of the host to a local, private
address which a server-side libcurl-using application could then use.
e.g. the innocuous URL http://fuzzybunnies.example.com/ could actually
resolve to the IP address of a server behind a firewall, such as
127.0.0.1 or 10.1.2.3. Applications can mitigate against this by
setting a CURLOPT_OPENSOCKETFUNCTION(3) or CURLOPT_PREREQFUNCTION(3)
and checking the address before a connection.
All the malicious scenarios regarding redirected URLs apply just as
well to non-redirected URLs, if the user is allowed to specify an
arbitrary URL that could point to a private resource. For example, a
web app providing a translation service might happily translate
file://localhost/etc/passwd and display the result. Applications can
mitigate against this with the CURLOPT_PROTOCOLS(3) option as well as
by similar mitigation techniques for redirections.
A malicious FTP server could in response to the PASV command return an
IP address and port number for a server local to the app running
libcurl but behind a firewall. Applications can mitigate against this
by using the CURLOPT_FTP_SKIP_PASV_IP(3) option or CURLOPT_FTPPORT(3).
Local servers sometimes assume local access comes from friends and
trusted users. An application that expects
https://example.com/file_to_read that and instead gets
http://192.168.0.1/my_router_config might print a file that would
otherwise be protected by the firewall.
Allowing your application to connect to local hosts, be it the same
machine that runs the application or a machine on the same local
network, might be possible to exploit by an attacker who then perhaps
can "port-scan" the particular hosts - depending on how the application
and servers acts.
Some users might be tempted to filter access to local resources or
similar based on numerical IPv4 addresses used in URLs. This is a bad
and error-prone idea because of the many different ways a numerical
IPv4 address can be specified and libcurl accepts: one to four dot-
separated fields using one of or a mix of decimal, octal or hexadecimal
libcurl will normally handle IPv6 addresses transparently and just as
easily as IPv4 addresses. That means that a sanitizing function that
filters out addresses like 127.0.0.1 is not sufficient--the equivalent
IPv6 addresses ::1, ::, 0:00::0:1, ::127.0.0.1 and ::ffff:7f00:1
supplied somehow by an attacker would all bypass a naive filter and
could allow access to undesired local resources. IPv6 also has special
address blocks like link-local and site-local that generally should not
be accessed by a server-side libcurl-using application. A poorly
configured firewall installed in a data center, organization or server
may also be configured to limit IPv4 connections but leave IPv6
connections wide open. In some cases, setting CURLOPT_IPRESOLVE(3) to
CURL_IPRESOLVE_V4 can be used to limit resolved addresses to IPv4 only
and bypass these issues.
When uploading, a redirect can cause a local (or remote) file to be
overwritten. Applications must not allow any unsanitized URL to be
passed in for uploads. Also, CURLOPT_FOLLOWLOCATION(3) should not be
used on uploads. Instead, the applications should consider handling
redirects itself, sanitizing each URL first.
Use of CURLOPT_UNRESTRICTED_AUTH(3) could cause authentication
information to be sent to an unknown second server. Applications can
mitigate against this by disabling CURLOPT_FOLLOWLOCATION(3) and
handling redirects itself, sanitizing where necessary.
Use of the CURLAUTH_ANY option to CURLOPT_HTTPAUTH(3) could result in
user name and password being sent in clear text to an HTTP server.
Instead, use CURLAUTH_ANYSAFE which ensures that the password is
encrypted over the network, or else fail the request.
Use of the CURLUSESSL_TRY option to CURLOPT_USE_SSL(3) could result in
user name and password being sent in clear text to an FTP server.
Instead, use CURLUSESSL_CONTROL to ensure that an encrypted connection
is used or else fail the request.
If cookies are enabled and cached, then a user could craft a URL which
performs some malicious action to a site whose authentication is
already stored in a cookie. e.g. http://mail.example.com/delete-
stuff.cgi?delete=all Applications can mitigate against this by
disabling cookies or clearing them between requests.
Dangerous SCP URLs
SCP URLs can contain raw commands within the scp: URL, which is a side
effect of how the SCP protocol is designed. e.g.
Applications must not allow unsanitized SCP: URLs to be passed in for
By default curl and libcurl support file:// URLs. Such a URL is always
an access, or attempted access, to a local resource. If your
application wants to avoid that, keep control of what URLs to use
and/or prevent curl/libcurl from using the protocol.
By default, libcurl prohibits redirects to file:// URLs.
Warning: file:// on Windows
The Windows operating system will automatically, and without any way
for applications to disable it, try to establish a connection to
another host over the network and access it (over SMB or other
protocols), if only the correct file path is accessed.
When first realizing this, the curl team tried to filter out such
attempts in order to protect applications for inadvertent probes of for
example internal networks etc. This resulted in CVE-2019-15601 and the
associated security fix.
However, we have since been made aware of the fact that the previous
fix was far from adequate as there are several other ways to accomplish
more or less the same thing: accessing a remote host over the network
instead of the local file system.
The conclusion we have come to is that this is a weakness or feature in
the Windows operating system itself, that we as an application cannot
safely protect users against. It would just be a whack-a-mole race we
do not want to participate in. There are too many ways to do it and
there's no knob we can use to turn off the practice.
If you use curl or libcurl on Windows (any version), disable the use of
the FILE protocol in curl or be prepared that accesses to a range of
"magic paths" will potentially make your system try to access other
hosts on your network. curl cannot protect you against this.
What if the user can set the URL
Applications may find it tempting to let users set the URL that it can
work on. That is probably fine, but opens up for mischief and trickery
that you as an application author may want to address or take
If your curl-using script allow a custom URL do you also, perhaps
unintentionally, allow the user to pass other options to the curl
command line if creative use of special characters are applied?
If the user can set the URL, the user can also specify the scheme part
to other protocols that you did not intend for users to use and perhaps
did not consider. curl supports over 20 different URL schemes.
"http://" might be what you thought, "ftp://" or "imap://" might be
what the user gives your application. Also, cross-protocol operations
might be done by using a particular scheme in the URL but point to a
server doing a different protocol on a non-standard port.
curl command lines can use --proto to limit what URL schemes it
libcurl programs can use CURLOPT_PROTOCOLS(3) to limit what URL
schemes it accepts
consider not allowing the user to set the full URL
Maybe just let the user provide data for parts of it? Or maybe
filter input to only allow specific choices?
RFC 3986 vs WHATWG URL
curl supports URLs mostly according to how they are defined in RFC
3986, and has done so since the beginning.
Web browsers mostly adhere to the WHATWG URL Specification.
This deviance makes some URLs copied between browsers (or returned over
HTTP for redirection) and curl not work the same way. It can also cause
problems if an application parses URLs differently from libcurl and
makes different assumptions about a link. This can mislead users into
getting the wrong thing, connecting to the wrong host or otherwise not
Within an application, this can be mitigated by always using the
curl_url(3) API to parse URLs, ensuring that they are parsed the same
way as within libcurl itself.
FTP uses two connections
When performing an FTP transfer, two TCP connections are used: one for
setting up the transfer and one for the actual data.
FTP is not only unauthenticated, but the setting up of the second
transfer is also a weak spot. The second connection to use for data, is
either setup with the PORT/EPRT command that makes the server connect
back to the client on the given IP+PORT, or with PASV/EPSV that makes
the server setup a port to listen to and tells the client to connect to
a given IP+PORT.
Again, unauthenticated means that the connection might be meddled with
by a man-in-the-middle or that there's a malicious server pretending to
be the right one.
A malicious FTP server can respond to PASV commands with the IP+PORT of
a totally different machine. Perhaps even a third party host, and when
there are many clients trying to connect to that third party, it could
create a Distributed Denial-Of-Service attack out of it. If the client
makes an upload operation, it can make the client send the data to
another site. If the attacker can affect what data the client uploads,
it can be made to work as a HTTP request and then the client could be
made to issue HTTP requests to third party hosts.
An attacker that manages to control curl's command line options can
tell curl to send an FTP PORT command to ask the server to connect to a
third party host instead of back to curl.
The fact that FTP uses two connections makes it vulnerable in a way
that is hard to avoid.
Denial of Service
A malicious server could cause libcurl to effectively hang by sending
data slowly, or even no data at all but just keeping the TCP connection
open. This could effectively result in a denial-of-service attack. The
CURLOPT_TIMEOUT(3) and/or CURLOPT_LOW_SPEED_LIMIT(3) options can be
used to mitigate against this.
A malicious server could cause libcurl to download an infinite amount
of data, potentially causing all of memory or disk to be filled.
Setting the CURLOPT_MAXFILESIZE_LARGE(3) option is not sufficient to
guard against this. Instead, applications should monitor the amount of
data received within the write or progress callback and abort once the
limit is reached.
A malicious HTTP server could cause an infinite redirection loop,
causing a denial-of-service. This can be mitigated by using the
User-supplied data must be sanitized when used in options like
CURLOPT_USERAGENT(3), CURLOPT_HTTPHEADER(3), CURLOPT_POSTFIELDS(3) and
others that are used to generate structured data. Characters like
embedded carriage returns or ampersands could allow the user to create
additional headers or fields that could cause malicious transactions.
A server can supply data which the application may, in some cases, use
as a file name. The curl command-line tool does this with --remote-
header-name, using the Content-disposition: header to generate a file
name. An application could also use CURLINFO_EFFECTIVE_URL(3) to
generate a file name from a server-supplied redirect URL. Special care
must be taken to sanitize such names to avoid the possibility of a
malicious server supplying one like "/etc/passwd", "\autoexec.bat",
"prn:" or even ".bashrc".
A secure application should never use the CURLOPT_SSL_VERIFYPEER(3)
option to disable certificate validation. There are numerous attacks
that are enabled by applications that fail to properly validate server
TLS/SSL certificates, thus enabling a malicious server to spoof a
legitimate one. HTTPS without validated certificates is potentially as
insecure as a plain HTTP connection.
Showing What You Do
Relatedly, be aware that in situations when you have problems with
libcurl and ask someone for help, everything you reveal in order to get
best possible help might also impose certain security related risks.
Host names, user names, paths, operating system specifics, etc. (not to
mention passwords of course) may in fact be used by intruders to gain
additional information of a potential target.
Be sure to limit access to application logs if they could hold private
or security-related data. Besides the obvious candidates like user
names and passwords, things like URLs, cookies or even file names could
also hold sensitive data.
To avoid this problem, you must of course use your common sense. Often,
you can just edit out the sensitive data or just search/replace your
true information with faked data.
setuid applications using libcurl
libcurl-using applications that set the 'setuid' bit to run with
elevated or modified rights also implicitly give that extra power to
libcurl and this should only be done after careful considerations.
Giving setuid powers to the application means that libcurl can save
files using those new rights (if for example the `SSLKEYLOGFILE`
environment variable is set). Also: if the application wants these
powers to read or manage secrets that the user is otherwise not able to
view (like credentials for a login etc), it should be noted that
libcurl still might understand proxy environment variables that allow
the user to redirect libcurl operations to use a proxy controlled by
File descriptors, fork and NTLM
An application that uses libcurl and invokes fork() will get all file
descriptors duplicated in the child process, including the ones libcurl
libcurl itself uses fork() and execl() if told to use the
CURLAUTH_NTLM_WB authentication method which then will invoke the
helper command in a child process with file descriptors duplicated.
Make sure that only the trusted and reliable helper program is invoked!
Secrets in memory
When applications pass user names, passwords or other sensitive data to
libcurl to be used for upcoming transfers, those secrets will be kept
around as-is in memory. In many cases they will be stored in heap for
as long as the handle itself for which the options are set.
If an attacker can access the heap, like maybe by reading swap space or
via a core dump file, such data might be accessible.
Further, when eventually closing a handle and the secrets are no longer
needed, libcurl does not explicitly clear memory before freeing it, so
credentials may be left in freed data.
Report Security Problems
Should you detect or just suspect a security problem in libcurl or
curl, contact the project curl security team immediately. See
https://curl.se/dev/secprocess.html for details.
libcurl 7.86.0 September 20, 2022 libcurl-security(3)