Path traversal in authorization context in Kong and F5 NGINX

Posted on Nov 25, 2021

In this part I will research another ingress controller based on nginx: 🦍 kong. At the end of article I will mention in short F5 NGINX Ingress Controller.

In kong there is no explicit feature called external authentication, but developers gave possibility to create it using plugins.

Here are some links describing this process:

During analysis I have found two possible exploitation paths:

  • using basic-auth and acl plugins - general idea is to create acl for route to protect service. I have tested it but, was not able to exploit 🙁
  • using custom plugin to implement external authentication

Custom Plugin

I based my plugin on aunkenlabs/kong-external-auth, but made it compatible with kong 2.6 and align with my auth-service:

local BasePlugin = require "kong.plugins.base_plugin"
local http = require "resty.http"

local ExternalAuthHandler = BasePlugin:extend()

function ExternalAuthHandler:new(), "external-auth")

function ExternalAuthHandler:access(conf)

  local client =
  client:set_timeouts(conf.connect_timeout, send_timeout, read_timeout)

  local res, err = client:request_uri(conf.url, {
    method = "GET",
    ssl_verify = false,
    headers = {
      ["X-Original-Uri"] = ngx.var.request_uri,
      ["X-Forwarded-Path"] = kong.request.get_path(),
      ["X-Forwarded-Method"] = kong.request.get_method(),
      ["X-Forwarded-Query"] = kong.request.get_raw_query(),
      ["X-Api-Key"] = kong.request.get_headers()["X-Api-Key"]

  if not res then
    return kong.response.exit(500)

  if res.status ~= 200 then
    return kong.response.exit(401)

ExternalAuthHandler.PRIORITY = 900

return ExternalAuthHandler

To load this plugin in Kubernetes deployment, read this guide: setting up custom plugins. I loaded it as ConfigMap and added reference to values.yaml.


I’m using kong in version 2.6.0 and kong ingress in 2.0.5.

This what is most important is value of headers that are coming into auth-service.

First payload: curl --path-as-is -v http://app.test/public-service/../protected-service/protected:

and logs from auth-service:

As you can see from image values of both headers are manipulated:

X-Original-Uri: /public-service/../protected-service/protected
X-Forwarded-Path: /public-service/../protected-service/protected

Why both headers are important? So first header is taken directly from ngx.var.request_uri but second one is taken using kong api: kong.request.get_path(). Result is a bit shocking for me as I was expecting to see normalized path in case of call to kong api. This is due fact that in kong source code there is path normalization implemented.

In case of second payload: curl -v http://app.test/public-service/..%2Fprotected-service/protected. There is no success:

It’s interesting that kong is not url decoding %2F. What is even more interesting it’s decoding %2E to . 🤔

The 404 is coming from public-service:

F5 NGINX Ingress Controller

There is no dedicated feature for external authentication, but using annotations you can add it like this (read more):

apiVersion: extensions/v1beta1
kind: Ingress
  annotations: |
            auth_request /auth; |
      location = /auth {
        return 200;
  name: cafe-ingress
  namespace: default

If you can add external auth, you can also add $request_uri as some header, which will effectively allow exploitation using path traversal.


After failed on exploitation with ingresses based on Traefik and envoy, I had mixed feelings about kong. This time I was successful 😀. From defenders perspective it’s good that acl plugin is not vulnerable. In external auth case, developers need to build custom plugin and authentication service without path normalization.

Kong developers are very explicit about get_path() function. In documentation there is info that it’s not normalized in anyway. This is clear indicator for creators of custom plugins: I have also check code of various kong plugins and they are secure. So the only valid case for exploitation is custom plugin using not normalized variables.

Here my code if you want to try yourself:

F5 NGINX Ingress Controller is also suffering from request_uri being not normalized.

Thanks for reading! You can follow me on Twitter.