Update: MySQL 5.6.30 was released on 2016/4/11.

CVE-2016-2047 was recently disclosed by MariaDB, so despite the fact that no fix is yet available for MySQL here’s a quick rundown of what the vulnerability is.

Summary: A man-in-the-middle attacker who can obtain a trusted TLS certificate with a specially crafted subject name can trick a MySQL client into trusting a malicious server.

Affected: Possibly every version MySQL (and by extension Percona, MariaDB, etc) from 4.0 and on. The bug was originally introduced by this commit on April 18, 2006.

When a MySQL client connects to a TLS enabled server it needs to verify the certificate1 if MYSQL_OPT_SSL_VERIFY_SERVER_CERT is set. The verification code looks like this:

static int ssl_verify_server_cert(Vio *vio, const char* server_hostname, const char **errptr)
  SSL *ssl;
  X509 *server_cert;
  char *cp1, *cp2;
  char buf[256];
  DBUG_PRINT("enter", ("server_hostname: %s", server_hostname));

  if (!(ssl= (SSL*)vio->ssl_arg))
    *errptr= "No SSL pointer found";

  if (!server_hostname)
    *errptr= "No server hostname supplied";

  if (!(server_cert= SSL_get_peer_certificate(ssl)))
    *errptr= "Could not get server certificate";

  if (X509_V_OK != SSL_get_verify_result(ssl))
    *errptr= "Failed to verify the server certificate";
    We already know that the certificate exchanged was valid; the SSL library
    handled that. Now we need to verify that the contents of the certificate
    are what we expect.

  X509_NAME_oneline(X509_get_subject_name(server_cert), buf, sizeof(buf));
  X509_free (server_cert);

  DBUG_PRINT("info", ("hostname in cert: %s", buf));
  cp1= strstr(buf, "/CN=");
  if (cp1)
    cp1+= 4; /* Skip the "/CN=" that we found */
    /* Search for next / which might be the delimiter for email */
    cp2= strchr(cp1, '/');
    if (cp2)
      *cp2= '\0';
    DBUG_PRINT("info", ("Server hostname in cert: %s", cp1));
    if (!strcmp(cp1, server_hostname))
      /* Success */
  *errptr= "SSL certificate validation failure";

SSL_get_verify_result is a function from OpenSSL that will (ideally) validate the following:

  • A chain can be built to a trusted root (the set of which were previously supplied).
  • Each signature in the chain is valid.
  • Each certificate in the chain is within the validity window.
  • Each certificate in the chain is not revoked2.
  • Each certificate is valid for the purpose it is being used (e.g. subordinate certificates have CA:TRUE values in basicConstraints, nameConstraints and extendedKeyUsage rules are enforced3, etc)

What it does not do is verify that the certificate supplied is the one you expected to see. This is typically done by having the client compare the domain it attempted to connect to (mysql.myunhackablestartup.net) to fields inside the certificate. In the long long ago, in the days before RFC 2818 this was done with the commonName (aka CN) value inside the subject. This value is still available, but in the past few years browsers and other client software have finally transitioned to depending on values with an X.509 extension called Subject Alternative Name. Within a subjectAltName you will typically find one or more dNSName entries4. Those must be verified against what the client requested using RFC 6125 rules.

Okay, so that’s a rough5 description of how name validation should work. To accomplish this task the MySQL client does the following:

  • Creates a fixed length character buffer (256 bytes).
  • X509_NAME_oneline serializes an X509_NAME into the previously mentioned character buffer. It does this by slash delimiting each X509_NAME_ENTRY.
  • Scans for /CN= via strstr to find the commonName.
  • Does pointer arithmetic to skip 4 bytes, which corresponds to /CN=.
  • Searches for a / via strchr. If found, it dereferences the returned char * and writes a null byte.
  • Uses strcmp to compare cp1 to the supplied server hostname.

This is problematic for a number of reasons. Starting from the beginning:

  • A fixed length buffer makes no sense here as a subject line could easily be longer than that. As is, anything longer than 256 bytes gets implicitly truncated. And, since several of the later functions assume a null-terminated string we’re into some unpleasant territory.
  • Creating a null-terminated string by inserting a null byte using strchr so you can perform a strcmp is not really a great idea.
  • strcmp is not exactly RFC 61256.

And of course, the big one: X509_NAME_oneline serializes the X509_NAME ASN.1 structure, but it is important to note that there is nothing special about the slash character it uses as a delimiter. It can be encoded into a name entry and is thus not a unique character that can unambiguously separate each entry.


To exploit this you need to get a CA7 trusted by the MySQL client you want to attack to issue a certificate where you set a subject entry to /CN=mysql.myunhackablestartup.net. This can be any name entry, but it needs to be encoded before the “real” CN. For example, if you X509_NAME has a structure like this:

	['O', 'myorg/CN=mysql.myunhackablestartup.net'],
	['C', 'US'],
	['CN', 'someotherdomain.local']

Then the X509_NAME_oneline serialization of this would look like /O=myorg/CN=mysql.myunhackablestartup.net/C=US/CN=someotherdomain.local and would pass validation with the MySQL client despite having an entirely different commonName.

Fixed Versions

MariaDB has already released fixes for this as 5.5.47, 10.0.23, and 10.1.10. Oracle and Percona have not yet released patches, but I will update this post when they do. Please upgrade if you’re relying on TLS’s security guarantees for your MySQL network communication.

  1. And validating certificates in non-browser software is the most dangerous code in the world

  2. Whether or not it does this is a complex topic, but for the purposes of X.509 in this context you can assume revocation is broken

  3. They almost never are so you can’t rely on that. Sorry. 

  4. There are also iPAddress, directoryName, and several more, but dNSName is by far the most common. Take a look at the RFC if you want to see the full list. 

  5. If you only care about validating dNSName then this is a pretty good description, although much like anything in TLS/X.509 land there may be exceptions to work around legacy bugs or existing software. Potentially subtle things like properly handling null bytes can lead to vulnerabilities

  6. Yes, RFC 6125 was published after this code was originally written, but that RFC is really just a centralized codification of the rules that had evolved over a decade+ of TLS client development. 

  7. Most public CAs will catch this sort of behavior and refuse to issue such a certificate, but there are hundreds of CAs and it’s likely more than a few of them would issue certificates with subjects like this.