Friday, March 10, 2017

Network attacks on MySQL, Part 1: Unencrypted connections


In a set of blog posts I will explain to you how different attacks on the network traffic of MySQL look like and what you can do to secure your systems againt these kinds of attacks.

How to gain access

To gain access to MySQL network traffic you can use tcpdump, dumpcap, snoop or whatever the tool to capture network packets on your OS is. This can be on any device which is part of the connnection: the server, the client, routers, switches, etc.

Besides application-to-database traffic this attack can also be done on replication traffic.


This allows you to extract queries and result sets.

The default password hash type mysql_new_password uses a nonce to protect against password sniffing. But when you change a password this will be sent accross the wire by default. Note that MySQL 5.6 and newer has some protection which ensures passwords are not sent to the logfiles, but this feature won't secure your network traffic.

In the replication stream however there are not as many places where passwords are exposed. This is true especially for row based replication, but even for statement based replication this can be true.

Some examples:

SET PASSWORD FOR 'myuser'@'%' = PASSWORD('foo'); -- deprecated syntax
UPDATE secrets SET secret_value = AES_ENCRYPT('foo', 'secret') WHERE id=5;

For both the password and the encryption key this can be seen in plain text for application-to-server traffic, but not for RBR replication traffic.

There is a trick to make this somewhat more secure, especially on 5.5 and older:

SET PASSWORD FOR 'myuser'@'%' = @a;

If your application stores passwords in MySQL: You're doing it wrong. If your application stores hashed passwords (w/ salt, etc): If the hashing is done in your application: this is ok. But note that a man-in-the-middle might send a slightly altered resultset to your application and with this gain access to your application, but that requires an active attack.

This attacks for this level are mostly passive, which makes it hard to detect. An attacker might snif password hashes for your appliation and brute force them and then login to your application. The only thing you will see in your logs is a successful login...

To protect against this attack:

  1. Use SSL/TLS
  2. Encrypt/Decrypt values in the application before inserting it in the database.
  3. Use a SSH tunnel (Workbench has built-in support for this)
  4. Use a local TCP or UNIX domain socket when changing passwords.[1]
  5. Don't use the MySQL protocol over the internet w/o encryption. Use a VPN or SSH.

For sensitive data you preferably should combine 1. and 2. Item 3. and 4. are mostly for ad-hoc DBA access.

Keep in mind that there might be some cron jobs, backups etc. which also need to use a secure connection. Ofcourse you should also protect your data files and backup files, but that's not what this post is about.

[1] It is possible to snoop on UNIX domain socket traffic, but an attacker who has that access probably has full system access and might more easily use an active attack.

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