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This article was originally published on the Red Hat Customer Portal. The information may no longer be current.

Red Hat Product Security has been made aware of a vulnerability in the SSL 3.0 protocol, which has been assigned CVE-2014-3566. All implementations of SSL 3.0 are affected. This vulnerability allows a man-in-the-middle attacker to decrypt ciphertext using a padding oracle side-channel attack.

To mitigate this vulnerability, it is recommended that you explicitly disable SSL 3.0 in favor of TLS 1.1 or later in all affected packages.

A brief history

Transport Layer Security (TLS) and its predecessor, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), are cryptographic protocols designed to provide communication security over networks. The SSL protocol was originally developed by Netscape.  Version 1.0 and was never publicly released; version 2.0 was released in February 1995 but contained a number of security flaws which ultimately led to the design of SSL 3.0. Over the years, several flaws were found in the design of SSL 3.0 as well. This ultimately lead to the development and widespread use of the TLS protocol.

Most TLS implementations remain backward compatible with SSL 3.0 to incorporate legacy systems and provide a smoother user experience. Many SSL clients implement a protocol downgrade "dance" to work around the server side interoperability issues. Once the connection is downgraded to SSL 3.0, RC4 or a block cipher with CBC mode is used; this is where the problem starts!

What is POODLE?

The POODLE vulnerability has two aspects. The first aspect is a weakness in the SSL 3.0 protocol, a padding oracle. An attacker can exploit this vulnerability to recover small amounts of plaintext from an encrypted SSL 3.0 connection, by issuing crafted HTTPS requests created by client-side Javascript code, for example. Multiple HTTPS requests are required for each recovered plaintext byte, and the vulnerability allows attackers to confirm if a particular byte was guessed correctly. This vulnerability is inherent to SSL 3.0 and unavoidable in this protocol version. The fix is to upgrade to newer versions, up to TLS 1.2 if possible.

Normally, a client and a server automatically negotiate the most recent supported protocol version of SSL/TLS. The second aspect of the POODLE vulnerability concerns this negotiation mechanism. For the protocol negotiation mechanism to work, servers must gracefully deal with a more recent protocol version offered by clients. (The connection would just use the older, server-supported version in such a scenario, not benefiting from future protocol enhancements.) However, when newer TLS versions were deployed, it was discovered that some servers just terminated the connection at the TCP layer or responded with a fatal handshake error, preventing a secure connection from being established. Clearly, this server behavior is a violation of the TLS protocol, but there were concerns that this behavior would make it impossible to deploy upgraded clients and widespread interoperability failures were feared. Consequently, browsers first try a recent TLS version, and if that fails, they attempt again with older protocol versions, until they end up at SSL 3.0, which suffers from the padding-related vulnerability described above. This behavior is sometimes called the compatibility dance. It is not part of TLS implementations such as OpenSSL, NSS, or GNUTLS; it is implemented by application code in client applications such as Firefox and Thunderbird.

Both aspects of POODLE require a man in the middle attack at the network layer. The first aspect of this flaw, the SSL 3.0 vulnerability, requires that an attacker can observe the network traffic between a client and a server and somehow trigger crafted network traffic from the client. This does not strictly require active manipulation of the network transmission, passive eavesdropping is sufficient. However, the second aspect, the forced protocol downgrade, requires active manipulation of network traffic.  As described in the POODLE paper, both aspects require the attacker to be able to observe and manipulate network traffic while it is in transit.


How are modern browsers affected by the POODLE security flaw?

Browsers are particularly vulnerable because session cookies are short and an ideal target for plain text recovery, and the way HTTPS works allows an attacker to generate many guesses quickly (either through Javascript or by downloading images). Browsers are also most likely to implement the compatibility fallback.
By default, Firefox supports SSL 3.0, and performs the compatibility fallback as described above. SSL 3.0 support can be switched off, but the compatibility fallback cannot be configured separately.

Is this issue fixed?

The first aspect of POODLE, the SSL 3.0 protocol vulnerability, has already been fixed through iterative protocol improvements, leading to the current TLS version, 1.2. It is simply not possible to address this in the context of the SSL 3.0 protocol, a protocol upgrade to one of the successors is needed. Note that TLS versions before 1.1 had similar padding-related protocol issues, which is why we recommend to switch to TLS 1.1, if possible. These issues, while present, are currently not known to be exploitable in a way such as POODLE. The first aspect of the POODLE vulnerability is not exploitable with TLS 1.0. (SSL and TLS are still quite similar as protocols, the name change has non-technical reasons.)

The second aspect, caused by browsers which implement the compatibility fallback in an insecure way, has yet to be addressed. Strictly speaking, this is a security vulnerability in browsers due to the way they misuse the TLS protocol. One way to fix this issue would be to remove the compatibility dance, focusing instead on making servers compatible with clients implementing the most recent TLS implementation (as explained, the protocol supports a version negotiation mechanism, but some servers refuse to implement it).

However, there is an industry-wide effort under way to enable browsers to downgrade in a secure fashion, using a new Signaling Cipher Suite Value (SCSV). This will require updates in browsers (such as Firefox) and TLS libraries (such as OpenSSL, NSS and GNUTLS). However, we do not envision changes in TLS client applications which currently do not implement the fallback logic, and neither in TLS server applications as long as they use one of the system TLS libraries. TLS-aware packet filters, firewalls, load balancers, and other infrastructure may need upgrades as well.

Is there going to be another SSL 3.0 issue in the near future? Is there a long term solution?

Disabling SSL 3.0 will obviously prevent exposure to future SSL 3.0-specific issues. The new SCSV-based downgrade mechanism should reliably prevent the use of SSL 3.0 if both parties support a newer protocol version. Once these software updates are widely deployed, the need to disable SSL 3.0 to address this and future vulnerabilities will hopefully be greatly reduced.

SSL 3.0 is typically used in conjunction with the RC4 stream cipher. (The only other secure option in a strict, SSL 3.0-only implementation is Triple DES, which is quite slow even on modern CPUs.) RC4 is already considered very weak, and SSL 3.0 does not even apply some of the recommended countermeasures which prolonged the lifetime of RC4 in other contexts. This is another reason to deploy support for more recent TLS versions.

I have patched my SSL implementation against BEAST and LUCKY-13, am I still vulnerable?

This depends on the type of mitigation you have implemented. If you disabled protocol versions earlier than TLS 1.1 (which includes SSL 3.0), then the POODLE issue does not affect your installation. If you forced clients to use RC4, the first aspect of POODLE does not apply, but you and your users are vulnerable to all of the weaknesses in RC4. If you implemented the n/n-1 split through a software update, or if you deployed TLS 1.1 support without enforcing it, but made no other configuration changes, you are still vulnerable to the POODLE issue.

Is it possible to monitor for exploit attempts?

The protocol downgrade is visible on the server side. Usually, servers can log TLS protocol versions. This information can then be compared with user agents or other information from the profile of a logged-in user, and mismatches could indicate attack attempts.

Attempts to abuse the SSL 3.0 padding oracle part of POODLE, as described in the paper, are visible to the server as well. They result in a fair number of HTTPS requests which follow a pattern not expected during the normal course of execution of a web application. However, it cannot be ruled out that a more sophisticated adaptive chosen plain text attack avoids confirmation of guesses from the server, and this more advanced attack would not be visible to the server, only to the client and the network up to the point at which the attacker performs their traffic manipulation.

What happens when i disable SSL 3.0 on my web server?

Some old browsers may not be able to support a secure connection to your site. Estimates of the number of such browsers in active use vary and depend on the target audience of a web site. SSL protocol version logging (see above) can be used to estimate the impact of disabling SSL 3.0 because it will be used only if no TLS version is available in the client.

Major browser vendors including Mozilla and Google have announced that they are to deactivate the SSL 3.0 in their upcoming versions.

How do I secure my Red Hat-supported software?

Red Hat has put together several articles regarding the removal of SSL 3.0 from its products.  Customers should review the recommendations and test changes before making them live in production systems.  As always, Red Hat Support is available to answer any questions you may have.

About the author

Red Hat is the world’s leading provider of enterprise open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to deliver reliable and high-performing Linux, hybrid cloud, container, and Kubernetes technologies.

Red Hat helps customers integrate new and existing IT applications, develop cloud-native applications, standardize on our industry-leading operating system, and automate, secure, and manage complex environments. Award-winning support, training, and consulting services make Red Hat a trusted adviser to the Fortune 500. As a strategic partner to cloud providers, system integrators, application vendors, customers, and open source communities, Red Hat can help organizations prepare for the digital future.

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