How some open redirect vulnerabilities are XSSes in disguise

One class of vulnerability that doesn’t seem to get much attention is the open redirect. In this post, I am going to give a little bit of background on open redirect vulnerabilities and describe how to parlay one into an XSS.

So what is an open redirect? An open redirect vulnerability exists when a site redirects or forwards a request using user-supplied input without performing validation.

It kind of makes sense that open redirects aren’t a very attractive attack vector. After all, getting one just means that you can send a relatively legitimate-looking link to someone, hope that they click through, and hope that they fall for the phish, right?

Well, no, not exactly! It turns out that if we’re dealing with a client-side redirect then we have one more trick up our sleeve. By client-side we just mean that it is JavaScript initiating the redirect instead of a server sending along a Location header with a 3XX status code.

While server-side open redirects are relatively boring, client-side redirects allow for the trivial execution of javascript!

Imagine a web page that includes the following JavaScript:

current_url = new URL(window.location.href);
next_url = current_url.searchParams.get("next");
window.location.href = decodeURIComponent(next_url);

Whe a user visits this page with, for example, redirect.html?next= they will be redirected to Google so long as JavaScript is enabled in their browser.

So how do we get from here to an XSS? Let’s talk about bookmarklets and javascript: URLs.

The idea of bookmarklets is that you can bookmark Javascript code to be run the same way you bookmark any other type of URL. These bookmarklets work by using javascript: URLs. For instance, if you wanted to pop up an alert box you could bookmark the URL javascript:alert("hello"); and that code would be ran whenever you opened that bookmark.

What makes javascript: URLs super valuable for an attacker though is that they have access to the DOM of the currently-loaded page.

Putting this together: If we come across a client-side redirect based on user-supplied input then we can redirect to a javascript: URL allowing us to execute arbitrary code. This code will have access to the DOM of the redirecting page including the value of any form elements and cookies!

If you want to experiment with this concept a little bit yourself, I’ve thrown up a gist of an example page vulnerable to a client-side open redirects.

In the wild

I recently came across and reported one of these for a bug bounty.

The open redirect was in the target’s login modal. The login flow was:

  1. The user enters their username and password and clicks “login”
  2. Instead of being sent to a new page during login, the credentials are submitted to an API endpoint for authentication using a XMLHttpRequest (“AJAX”)
  3. If authentication was successful, the value of the nextUrl query parameter would be assigned as the new location (window.location.href) triggering a redirect (or XSS in our case)

There wasn’t any form of validation or sanitization of the nextUrl parameter making this one especially trivial to exploit.

Finally, because this open redirect / XSS was present on the login page and, as we learned, the JavaScript we write has access to the DOM, this XSS could steal valid usernames and passwords!

Bonus bug bounty tip

If you find one of these, report it as an XSS. Obviously explain that this vulnerability stems from an open redirect but your initial technical severity should be based on the fact that we have client-side code execution.

If you need more convincing, here is @hakluke, a Bugcrowd employee, telling me to report these are XSSes too!

Not only will this help your target prioritize their fix amongst all of the other work they have to do but it might fetch you a bigger bounty as well! For example, per BugCrowd’s Vulnerability Rating Taxonomy, the difference between an open redirect and an XSS is the difference between a P4 and a P3.

What are your favorite underestimated vulnerabilities? Let me know @subfnSecurity on twitter!