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Shellshock mitigation with BIG-IP iRules

Yesterday, NIST released information on a new network exploitable vulnerability in the GNU Bash shell as demonstrated by vectors involving parts of OpenSSH sshd, the mod_cgi, and mod_cgid modules in the Apache HTTP Server, scripts executed by DHCP clients, and other situations where setting the environment around a bash process occurs.  Vulnerability CVE-2014-6271, or Shellshock as everyone is calling it, allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code on the target systems.  Redhat has a great overview in their security blog posting on the topic.

What makes this vulnerability serious is the fact that server-side CGI applications running under the Apache Web Server with mod_cgi or mod_cgid are susceptible.

F5's Jeff Costlow is maintaining an article on the Shellshock vulnerability so make sure you check back to that article for F5's official stance.

The first step to mitigation is to setup a plan to patch the bash shell on all of your systems.  In the interum, if you believe that any of your backend servers are vulnerable (if they are Unix-based then they likely are) and you are fronting them with a BIG-IP, below is an iRule solution you can apply to your Virtual Servers that will protect your servers against attacks.


The Block-Shellshock iRule searches for the pattern "*() {*" in the URI and in the HTTP headers.  It is rare that this pattern of characters will occur in a URI or HTTP Header so we believe the number of false-positives will be minimal.  If the pattern is found, an audit entry will be written to the system log with the client ip as well as the URI, and optionally the HTTP header, that the attack was detected.  I chose to issue a reject on the connection.  If you want to be more polite to the hackers, you can substitute the "reject" with a 403 - Forbidden.

  set pattern "*() \{*";  
  if { [string match $pattern [HTTP::uri]] } {
    log local0. "Detected CVE-2014-6271 attack from '[IP::client_addr]' in URI '[HTTP::uri]'";
  } else {
    foreach header_name [HTTP::header names] {
      foreach header_value [HTTP::header values $header_name] {
        if { [string match $pattern $header_value] } {
          log local0. "Detected CVE-2014-6271 attack from '[IP::client_addr]' in HTTP Header $header_name = '$header_value'; URI = '[HTTP::uri]'";


The first iRule gives a more detailed audit if the attack is detected.  In the case where that is not a concern and you are more concerned with performance, the HTTP::request method can be used to perform a single search across all of the request header information.  This does not cover the POST body, but at this point there is no indication that the exploit is exposed within the body portion of a POST request.  This irule reports the client IP along with the requested URI that is the source of the attack.

  if { [string match "*() \{*" [HTTP::request]] } {
    log local0. "Detected CVE-2014-6271 attack from '[IP::client_addr]'; URI = '[HTTP::uri]'";

We will be monitoring this vulnerability over the coming weeks and update the iRule solution if a more optimal one becomes available.  Please leave a comment if you have any suggestions.  And, make sure you monitor Jeff's article for updates.

Special Considerations

Please be aware that this iRule will reject any connections containing the string "() {" in the URI or header.  While we are confident that this is not a valid pattern for standard headers, there could be situations where custom application values contain this string pattern and this iRule would cause issues to those applications.  We suggest running the longer iRule and actively monitoring the system log for false positives.  If you find a case where your custom application is being blocked, you can customize the first iRule to exclude the header your application relies on.



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Joe Pruitt is a Principal Strategic Architect at F5 Networks working with Network and Software Architects to allow them to build network intelligence into their applications.