XXE DoS and .Net

Posted by on May 6, 2019

External XML Entity (XXE) vulnerabilities can be more than just a risk of remote code execution (RCE), information leakage, or server side request forgery (SSRF). A denial of service (DoS) attack is commonly overlooked. However, given a mis-configured XML parser, it may be possible for an attacker to cause a denial of service attack and block your application’s resources. This would limit the ability for a user to access the expected application when needed.

In most cases, the parser can be configured to just ignore any entities, by disabling DTD parsing. As a matter of fact, many of the common parsers do this by default. If the DTD is not processed, then even the denial of service risk should be removed.

For this post, I want to talk about if DTDs are parsed and focus specifically on the denial of service aspect. One of the properties that becomes important when working with .Net and XML is the MaxCharactersFromEntities property.

The purpose of this property is to limit how long the value of an entity can be. This is important because often times in a DoS attempt, the use of expanding entities can cause a very large request with very few actual lines of data. The following is an example of what a DoS attack might look like in an entity.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE foo [ <!ELEMENT foo ANY >
<!ENTITY dos 'dos' >
<!ENTITY dos1 '&dos;&dos;&dos;&dos;&dos;&dos;&dos;&dos;&dos;&dos;&dos;&dos;' >
<!ENTITY dos2 '&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;&dos1;' >
<!ENTITY dos3 '&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;&dos2;' >
<!ENTITY dos4 '&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;&dos3;' >
<!ENTITY dos5 '&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;&dos4;' >
<!ENTITY dos6 '&dos5;&dos5;&dos5;&dos5;&dos5;&dos5;&dos5;&dos5;&dos5;&dos5;&dos5;&dos5;' >]>

Notice in the above example we have multiple entities that each reference the previous one multiple times. This results in a very large string being created when dos6 is actually referenced in the XML code. This would probably not be large enough to actually cause a denial of service, but you can see how quickly this becomes a very large value.

To help protect the XML parser and the application the MaxCharactersFromEntities helps limit how large this expansion can get. Once it reaches the max amount, it will throw a System.XmlXmlException: ‘The input document has exceeded a limit set by MaxCharactersFromEntities’ exception.

The Microsoft documentation (linked above) states that the default value is 0. This means that it is undefined and there is no limit in place. Through my testing, it appears that this is true for ASP.Net Framework versions up to 4.5.1. In 4.5.2 and above, as well as .Net Core, the default value for this property is 10,000,000. This is most likely a small enough value to protect against denial of service with the XmlReader object.


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