Python CGIHTTPServer Encoded Path Traversal

Advisory: Python CGIHTTPServer File Disclosure and Potential Code

The CGIHTTPServer Python module does not properly handle URL-encoded
path separators in URLs. This may enable attackers to disclose a CGI
script’s source code or execute arbitrary CGI scripts in the server’s
document root.


Product: Python CGIHTTPServer
Affected Versions:
2.7 – 2.7.7,
3.2 – 3.2.4,
3.3 – 3.3.2,
3.4 – 3.4.1,
3.5 pre-release
Fixed Versions:
2.7 rev b4bab0788768,
3.2 rev e47422855841,
3.3 rev 5676797f3a3e,
3.4 rev 847e288d6e93,
3.5 rev f8b3bb5eb190
Vulnerability Type: File Disclosure, Directory Traversal, Code Execution
Security Risk: high
Vendor URL:
Vendor Status: fixed version released
Advisory URL:
Advisory Status: published
CVE: CVE-2014-4650


The CGIHTTPServer module defines a request-handler class, interface
compatible with BaseHTTPServer. BaseHTTPRequestHandler and inherits
behavior from SimpleHTTPServer. SimpleHTTPRequestHandler but can also
run CGI scripts.

(from the Python documentation)

More Details

The CGIHTTPServer module can be used to set up a simple HTTP server with
CGI scripts. A sample server script in Python may look like the

#!/usr/bin/env python2

import CGIHTTPServer
import BaseHTTPServer

if __name__ == “__main__”:
server = BaseHTTPServer.HTTPServer
handler = CGIHTTPServer.CGIHTTPRequestHandler
server_address = (“”, 8000)
# Note that only /cgi-bin will work:
handler.cgi_directories = [“/cgi-bin”, “/cgi-bin/subdir”]
httpd = server(server_address, handler)

This server should execute any scripts located in the subdirectory
“cgi-bin”. A sample CGI script can be placed in that directory, for
example a script like the following:

#!/usr/bin/env python2
import json
import sys

db_credentials = “SECRET”
sys.stdout.write(“Content-type: text/json\r\n\r\n”)
sys.stdout.write(json.dumps({“text”: “This is a Test”}))

The Python library implements the CGIHTTPRequestHandler
class which inherits from SimpleHTTPServer.SimpleHTTPRequestHandler:

class SimpleHTTPRequestHandler(BaseHTTPServer.BaseHTTPRequestHandler):
def do_GET(self):
“””Serve a GET request.”””
f = self.send_head()
if f:
self.copyfile(f, self.wfile)

def do_HEAD(self):
“””Serve a HEAD request.”””
f = self.send_head()
if f:

def translate_path(self, path):
path = posixpath.normpath(urllib.unquote(path))
words = path.split(‘/’)
words = filter(None, words)
path = os.getcwd()

The CGIHTTPRequestHandler class inherits, among others, the methods
do_GET() and do_HEAD() for handling HTTP GET and HTTP HEAD requests. The
class overrides send_head() and implements several new methods, such as
do_POST(), is_cgi() and run_cgi():

class CGIHTTPRequestHandler(SimpleHTTPServer.SimpleHTTPRequestHandler):
def do_POST(self):
if self.is_cgi():
self.send_error(501, “Can only POST to CGI scripts”)

def send_head(self):
“””Version of send_head that support CGI scripts”””
if self.is_cgi():
return self.run_cgi()
return SimpleHTTPServer.SimpleHTTPRequestHandler.send_head(self)

def is_cgi(self):
collapsed_path = _url_collapse_path(self.path)
dir_sep = collapsed_path.find(‘/’, 1)
head, tail = collapsed_path[:dir_sep], collapsed_path[dir_sep+1:]
if head in self.cgi_directories:
self.cgi_info = head, tail
return True
return False
def run_cgi(self):
“””Execute a CGI script.”””
dir, rest = self.cgi_info


# dissect the part after the directory name into a script name &
# a possible additional path, to be stored in PATH_INFO.
i = rest.find(‘/’)
if i >= 0:
script, rest = rest[:i], rest[i:]
script, rest = rest, ”

scriptname = dir + ‘/’ + script
scriptfile = self.translate_path(scriptname)
if not os.path.exists(scriptfile):
self.send_error(404, “No such CGI script (%r)” % scriptname)
if not os.path.isfile(scriptfile):
self.send_error(403, “CGI script is not a plain file (%r)” %

For HTTP GET requests, do_GET() first invokes send_head(). That method
calls is_cgi() to determine whether the requested path is to be executed
as a CGI script. The is_cgi() method uses _url_collapse_path() to
normalize the path, i.e. remove extraneous slashes (/),current directory
(.), or parent directory (..) elements, taking care not to permit
directory traversal below the document root. The is_cgi() function
returns True when the first path element is contained in the
cgi_directories list. As _url_collaps_path() and is_cgi() never URL
decode the path, replacing the forward slash after the CGI directory in
the URL to a CGI script with the URL encoded variant %2f leads to
is_cgi() returning False. This will make CGIHTTPRequestHandler’s
send_head() then invoke its parent’s send_head() method which translates
the URL path to a file system path using the translate_path() method and
then outputs the file’s contents raw. As translate_path() URL decodes
the path, this then succeeds and discloses the CGI script’s file

$ curl http://localhost:8000/
#!/usr/bin/env python2
import json
import sys

db_credentials = “SECRET”
sys.stdout.write(“Content-type: text/json\r\n\r\n”)
sys.stdout.write(json.dumps({“text”: “This is a Test”}))

Similarly, the CGIHTTPRequestHandler can be tricked into executing CGI
scripts that would normally not be executable. The class normally only
allows executing CGI scripts that are direct children of one of the
directories listed in cgi_directories. Furthermore, only direct
subdirectories of the document root (the current working directory) can
be valid CGI directories.

This can be seen in the following example. Even though the sample server
shown above includes “/cgi-bin/subdir” as part of the request handler’s
cgi_directories, a CGI script named in that directory is not

$ curl http://localhost:8000/cgi-bin/subdir/

Error code 403.

Message: CGI script is not a plain file (‘/cgi-bin/subdir’).

Here, is_cgi() set self.cgi_info to (‘/cgi-bin’, ‘subdir/’) and
returned True. Next, run_cgi() further dissected these paths to perform
some sanity checks, thereby mistakenly assuming subdir to be the
executable script’s filename and to be path info. As subdir is
not an executable file, run_cgi() returns an error message. However, if
the forward slash between subdir and is replaced with %2f,
invoking the script succeeds:

$ curl http://localhost:8000/cgi-bin/
{“text”: “This is a Test”}

This is because neither is_cgi() nor run_cgi() URL decode the path
during processing until run_cgi() tries to determine whether the target
script is an executable file. More specifically, as
does not contain a forward slash, it is not split into the script name
subdir and path info, as in the previous example.

Similarly, using URL encoded forward slashes, executables outside of a
CGI directory can be executed:

$ curl http://localhost:8000/cgi-bin/
{“text”: “This is a Test”}


Subclass CGIHTTPRequestHandler and override the is_cgi() method with a
variant that first URL decodes the supplied path, for example:

class FixedCGIHTTPRequestHandler(CGIHTTPServer.CGIHTTPRequestHandler):
def is_cgi(self):
self.path = urllib.unquote(self.path)
return CGIHTTPServer.CGIHTTPRequestHandler.is_cgi(self)


Update to the latest Python version from the Mercurial repository at

Security Risk

The vulnerability can be used to gain access to the contents of CGI
binaries or the source code of CGI scripts. This may reveal sensitve
information, for example access credentials. This can greatly help
attackers in mounting further attacks and is therefore considered to
pose a high risk. Furthermore attackers may be able to execute code that
was not intended to be executed. However, this is limited to files
stored in the server’s working directory or in its subdirectories.

The CGIHTTPServer code does contain this warning:
Even when used on a local computer this may allow other local users to
execute code in the context of another user.


2014-04-07 Vulnerability identified
2014-06-11 Customer approved disclosure to vendor
2014-06-11 Vendor notified
2014-06-15 Vendor disclosed vulnerability in their public bug tracker
and addressed it in public source code repository
2014-06-23 CVE number requested
2014-06-25 CVE number assigned
2014-06-26 Advisory released


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