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[VulnWatch] Corsaire Security Advisory - Multiple vendor MIME field quoting issue
From: advisories (advisoriescorsaire.com)
Date: Mon Sep 13 2004 - 06:45:00 CDT
-- Corsaire Security Advisory --
Title: Multiple vendor MIME field quoting issue
Author: Martin O'Neal [martin.onealcorsaire.com]
Audience: General distribution
-- Scope --
The aim of this document is to clearly define a MIME content evasion
issue that affects a variety of products including; browsers, proxy
servers, email clients, content security gateways and antivirus
-- History --
Discovered: 04.08.03 (Martin O'Neal)
NISCC notified: 12.01.04
Document released: 13.09.04
-- Overview --
There are a number of content security gateway and antivirus products
available that provide policy based security functionality. Part of this
functionality allows the products to block embedded file attachments
based on their specific content type, such as executables or those
containing viruses. However, by using malformed MIME encapsulation
techniques centred on the presence of non-standard quoting, this
functionality can be evaded.
-- Analysis --
The MIME standards are intended to provide a common mechanism to
exchange data between systems and are used extensively by protocols such
as HTTP and SMTP. The structure of a MIME message is defined in RFC2045
, which in turn makes use of concepts introduced in RFC822 
(superseded by RFC2822 ).
The standards define a range of fields that control how data is encoded
within the transport, and how it should be interpreted by the receiving
agent. RFC2822 states "Strings of characters that include characters
other than those allowed in atoms may be represented in a quoted string
format, where the characters are surrounded by quote (DQUOTE, ASCII
value 34) characters."
However, the use of quoting may be malformed in a number of ways, such
as quoting fields that should not be quoted, duplicating quotes, or
omitting the leading or trailing quote character from a string.
As usual, this has been interpreted in various ways by the assorted
vendors. For many products, such as email clients and browsers, this
scope for interpretation might only result in some unreliable behaviour.
However, for a collection of security products, being unaware of the
various ways that the standard has been interpreted can lead to more
serious results, as the products may fail to detect a threat within the
When a receiving agent is presented with a MIME message that contains
unexpected quotes, it tends to respond in one of two broad ways:
- It identifies the MIME message as malformed and blocks it.
- It fails to interpret the MIME field (or message).
The first of the two would be the correct behaviour for a security
conscious product, but based on empirical research this is not the
common result for a number of scenarios.
The MIME field quoting issue has been observed to affect most of the
headers, parameters and values defined within the standard. To use this
issue as an attack mechanism, all that is required is to identify a
target that has a client agent that interprets the chosen quoting more
liberally than any security products that protect it.
-- Recommendations --
To be effective tools, the security products must not only be able to
process encoding techniques implemented as per the relevant standard,
but also common misinterpretations and deliberate corruptions.
As an ongoing process, a study project should be undertaken by the
vendors to identify applications that routinely decode MIME objects and
have a liberal interpretation of the MIME standard.
NISCC have produced a document consolidating a number of vendor
statements on these issues . Contact your vendor directly to
establish whether you are affected by these issues.
-- Background --
This issue was discovered using a custom SMTP/HTTP vulnerability
analysis tool developed by Corsaire's security assessment team. This
tool is not available publicly, but is an example of the specialist
approach used by Corsaire's consultants as part of a commercial security
assessment. To find out more about the cutting edge services provided by
Corsaire simply visit our web site at http://www.corsaire.com
-- CVE --
The Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) project has assigned
the name CAN-2003-1016 to this issue. This is a candidate for
inclusion in the CVE list (http://cve.mitre.org), which standardises
names for security problems.
-- References --
-- Revision --
a. Initial release.
-- Distribution --
This security advisory may be freely distributed, provided that it
remains unaltered and in its original form.
-- Disclaimer --
The information contained within this advisory is supplied "as-is" with
no warranties or guarantees of fitness of use or otherwise. Corsaire
accepts no responsibility for any damage caused by the use or misuse of
-- About Corsaire --
Corsaire are a leading information security consultancy, founded in 1997
in Guildford, Surrey, UK. Corsaire bring innovation, integrity and
analytical rigour to every job, which means fast and dramatic security
performance improvements. Our services centre on the delivery of
information security planning, assessment, implementation, management
and vulnerability research.
A free guide to selecting a security assessment supplier is available at
Copyright 2003 Corsaire Limited. All rights reserved.