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Date: Mon, 18 Sep 2017 15:18:34 +0200
From: Hanno Böck <>
Subject: Optionsbleed bug in Apache HTTPD

Also at:

If you're using the HTTP protocol in everday Internet use you are
usually only using two of its methods: GET and POST. However HTTP has a
number of other methods, so I wondered what you can do with them and if
there are any vulnerabilities.

One HTTP method is called OPTIONS. It simply allows asking a server
which other HTTP methods it supports. The server answers with the
"Allow" header and gives us a comma separated list of supported methods.

A scan of the Alexa Top 1 Million revealed something strange: Plenty of
servers sent out an "Allow" header with what looked like corrupted
data. Some examples: Allow: ,GET,,,POST,OPTIONS,HEAD,, Allow:
"-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN"
"" Allow:

That clearly looked interesting - and dangerous. It suspiciously looked
like a "bleed"-style bug, which has become a name for bugs where
arbitrary pieces of memory are leaked to a potential attacker. However
these were random servers on the Internet, so at first I didn't know
what software was causing this.

Sometimes HTTP servers send a "Server" header telling the software.
However one needs to be aware that the "Server" header can lie. It's
quite common to have one HTTP server proxying another. I got all kinds
of different "Server" headers back, but I very much suspected that
these were all from the same bug.

I tried to contact the affected server operators, but only one of them
answered, and he was extremely reluctant to tell me anything about his
setup, so that wasn't very helpful either.

However I got one clue: Some of the corrupted headers contained strings
that were clearly configuration options from Apache. It seemed quite
unlikely that those would show up in the memory of other server
software. But I was unable to reproduce anything alike on my own Apache
servers. I also tried reading the code that put together the Allow
header to see if I can find any clues, but with no success. So without
knowing any details I contacted the Apache security team.

Fortunately Apache developer Jacob Champion digged into it and figured
out what was going on: Apache supports a configuration directive Limits
that allows restricting access to certain HTTP methods to a specific
user. And if one sets the Limit directive in an .htaccess file for an
HTTP method that's not globally registered in the server then the
corruption happens. After that I was able to reproduce it myself.
Setting a Limit directive for any invalid HTTP method in an .htaccess
file caused a use after free error in the construction of the Allow
header which was also detectable with Address Sanitizer. (However ASAN
doesn't work reliable due to the memory allocation abstraction done by


What's Optionsbleed?

Optionsbleed is a use after free error in Apache HTTP that causes a
corrupted Allow header to be constructed in response to HTTP OPTIONS
requests. This can leak pieces of arbitrary memory from the server
process that may contain secrets. The memory pieces change after
multiple requests, so for a vulnerable host an arbitrary number of
memory chunks can be leaked.

The bug appears if a webmaster tries to use the "Limit" directive with
an invalid HTTP method.

Example .htaccess:

<Limit abcxyz>

How prevalent is it?

Scanning the Alexa Top 1 Million revealed 466 hosts with corrupted
Allow headers. In theory it's possible that other server software has
similar bugs. On the other hand this bug is nondeterministic, so not
all vulnerable hosts may have been catched.

So it only happens if you set a quite unusual configuration option?

There's an additional risk in shared hosting environments. The
corruption is not limited to a single virtual host. One customer of a
shared hosting provider could deliberately create an .htaccess file
causing this corruption hoping to be able to extract secret data from
other hosts on the same system.

I can't reproduce it!

Due to its nature the bug doesn't appear deterministically. It only
seems to appear on busy servers. Sometimes it only appears after
multiple requests.

Does it have a CVE?


I'm seeing Allow headers containing HEAD multiple times!

This is actually a different Apache bug (#61207) [1] that I found during
this investigation. It causes HEAD to appear three times instead of
once. However it's harmless and not a security bug.

Launchpad also has a harmless bug [2] that produces a malformed Allow
header, using a space-separated list instead of a comma-separated one.

How can I test it?

A simple way is to use Curl in a loop and send OPTIONS requests:

for i in {1..100}; do curl -sI -X OPTIONS|grep
-i "allow:"; done

Depending on the server configuration it may not answer to OPTIONS
requests on some URLs. Try different paths, HTTP versus HTTPS hosts,
non-www versus www etc. may lead to different results.

Please note that this bug does not show up with the "*" OPTIONS target,
you need a specific path.

Here's a python proof of concept script [3].

What shall I do?

If you run an Apache web server you should update. Most distributions
should have updated packages by now or very soon. A patch [4] can be
found here. A patch for Apache 2.2 is available here [5] (thanks to
Thomas Deutschmann for backporting it).

Unfortunately the communication with the Apache security team wasn't
ideal. They were unable to provide a timeline for a coordinated release
with a fix, so I decided to define a disclosure date on my own without
an upstream fix.

If you run an Apache web server in a shared hosting environment that
allows users to create .htaccess files you should drop everything you
do right now, update immediately and make sure you restart the server

Is this as bad as Heartbleed?

No. Although similar in nature, this bug leaks only small chunks of
memory and more importantly only affects a small number of hosts by

It's still a pretty bad bug, particularly for shared hosting


Hanno Böck

GPG: FE73757FA60E4E21B937579FA5880072BBB51E42

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