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[oss-security] Re: Blind in/on-path attacks against VPN-tunneled connections (CVE-2019-14899 follow-up)

Hi all,

I'm just circling back now that we have a virtual environment for you to test.

This was produced as an artifact for our Usenix paper on this vulnerability and the one covered by CVE-2019-14899. The included virtual environment is for OpenVPN, but we have one for WireGuard and StrongSwan as well that we can share upon request. I'll also provide a link for the paper.

A CVE has still not been assigned for this issue, but it has been submitted to MITRE.




Breakpointing Bad
William J. Tolley
Beau Kujath
Jedidiah Crandall

On 2020-08-13 08:06, vpn-research AT breakpointingbad.com wrote:
Hi all,

This is reporting a vulnerability that allows an in/on-path attacker
between a VPN client and VPN server to infer and inject arbitrary data
into VPN-tunneled connections. This vulnerability is related to
CVE-2019-14899, but has a few key differences.

- The attacker does not need to be the gateway or network adjacent, as
described in CVE-2019-14899.

- The packets are not being spoofed "outside" of the tunnel. In the
previous attack, the packets were sent to the wireless/ethernet
interface and were still being processed by the kernel despite coming
from a non-VPN interface, in this attack we are not subverting the
tunnel by sending packets to the incorrect interface, but sending
packets to the VPN server with the source address of the endhost (such
as a web server).  Thus, for the VPN server, the spoofed packets that
make it into the tunnel are identical to real packets from the
endhost, and enter the VPN server from the same interface.  For the
VPN client, the spoofed packets are coming through the VPN tunnel from
the VPN server.

- Enabling rp_filtering on the client machine does not prevent this
attack, and source address validation on the scale of the Internet
doesn't really exist.  Note that rp_filter on the server is
irrelevant, since spoofed packets enter on the same interface as
legitimate packets.

- The VPN providers and operating systems affected by this attack is
expanded to include policy-based VPNs and Windows etc.

We reported this to disros AT vs.openwall.org and security AT kernel.org on
July 29th, but have not yet received any responses from any vendors
with a CVE pool. While related to CVE-2019-14899 in that we examine
the timing and size of encrypted packets to infer information about
packet headers, we believe this attack is significantly different and
should be assigned a CVE and addressed since the previous mitigation
does not prevent this attack.

We have included our correspondence with distros and kernel security
in the form of a FAQ on our blog here:

To prevent the cluster foxtrot of misinformation from the last
disclosure, we request that anyone wanting to report on this contact
us at vpn-research AT breakpointingbad.com.

William J. Tolley
Beau Kujath
Jedidiah R. Crandall

Breakpointing Bad &
Arizona State University


This is a follow-up to our report on November 20th of last year
detailing how connections inside a VPN tunnel could be inferred,
reset, and in some cases, hijacked by injecting data into the TCP
stream. We have expanded the attack by moving one or more hops away
from the client to an in-path middle router between the client and VPN
server. In our previous disclosure, a client-side mitigation using
iptables or nftables was suggested, but we are unsure of how to
prevent this new attack and do not believe there is a client-side

Our setup is as follows:

vpn client ----- AP ----- router 1 ------ router 2 ----- vpn server

                                 \        /

                                   \    /


                                   router 3



(If formatting is a problem: https://breakpointingbad.com/assets/virtlab.jpg)

The VPN client and access point both have reverse path filtering
enabled, and the client has an active connection to the website
through the VPN server. The attack is performed from router 1,
spoofing a packet that appears to be from the website to the VPN
server. To infer a connection that the VPN client has made on the
other end of the VPN tunnel, we spoof the packet coming from router 1
with the source address and port of the website and the destination
address of the VPN server.  By searching the ephemeral port space for
the last part of the 4-tuple, one of the spoofed packets will be NATed
by the VPN server (if the connection exists) and seen in the VPN
tunnel by router 1 (by looking at the size of encrypted packets going
from VPN server to VPN client).

Unlike the previous attack from the perspective of the gateway, or an
adjacent user, we do not need to know the virtual IP assigned to the
client.  However, as with the previous attack, the attacker must
already know the IP address that they anticipate the victim will
connect to using the VPN.  But testing a site is trivial, especially
if we limit the scope to a targeted attack from nation state testing
against a banned list, for example.

We have tested this in a limited, virtual environment, but we are
starting our effort to test this on the “real internet”, where we will
need to account for packet loss, packet reordering, and packet delay,
but in many ways this attack is an easier attack than the original
that led to CVE-2019-14899 since it removes some of the most
time-consuming elements of the previous attack.

We have tested this against OpenVPN, WireGuard, and StrongSwan. We
selected these since they are the most commonly used commercial VPN
platforms. It was suggested by Noel Kuntze in the previous thread that
the old attack wouldn’t work against policy-based VPNs, such as IPSec
using StrongSwan, so we included it in this effort to demonstrate how
the new attack does not depend on anything particular to the network
stack or VPN implementation of the client.  We have only tested
inferring that a TCP connection exists up to this point, but it should
be possible to reset or hijack that TCP connection in a manner similar
to the original attack since we can spoof packets into the tunnel at
the VPN server end.  Again, this works regardless of the VPN client’s
configuration, OS, etc.

We are still developing other attacks using this method, including
attacks on DNS similar to those suggested by Colm MacCárthaigh.  By
using a DoS attack to have the DNS server ignore DNS requests from the
VPN server, we can guess the source port as above and then search as
much of the TXID space as possible within the timeout period of the
DNS request.  We have successfully hijacked VPN-tunneled DNS requests,
and are working on speeding up our attacks to make it more likely to
work for any given request.

Just to summarize and put both forms of attack (spoofing to the VPN
client from a network adjacent position vs. spoofing to the VPN server
from any router on the path from VPN client to VPN server) into

-We’re still able to infer the existence of VPN-tunneled TCP
connections, and potentially RST and hijack them, regardless of VPN
client OS or anything the VPN client has done to patch against

-We note that TLS does not protect against inferring and resetting
connections in general, and our ability to hijack DNS requests also
means that TLS encryption alone will not protect a TCP connection.
VPNs are supposed to protect the integrity of tunneled traffic
independently of application-layer protections (such as TLS). Our work
shows that they do not.

-Attacking by spoofing packets to the VPN server instead of the VPN
client changes the threat model to be not only attackers that are
network adjacent to the VPN client, but also attackers that are
in/on-path between the VPN client and VPN server (e.g., the routers
that route packets between them).

We also want to point out that the target audience for this disclosure
is kernel developers and others familiar with network stack
implementations and the details of how VPN routing works.  As with the
first disclosure we plan to follow list policy and make the disclosure
public after 14 days.  Our last disclosure was misinterpreted by many
media outlets and podcasters, so we’d like to point out that anybody
with questions about the disclosure can email
vpn-research AT breakpointingbad.com and we’ll be happy to answer what
questions we can.