Testing for Captcha (OWASP-AT-012)
This article is part of the new OWASP Testing Guide v4.
Back to the OWASP Testing Guide v4 ToC: https://www.owasp.org/index.php/OWASP_Testing_Guide_v4_Table_of_Contents Back to the OWASP Testing Guide Project: https://www.owasp.org/index.php/OWASP_Testing_Project
WARNING: CAPTCHA protection is an ineffective security mechanism and should be perceived as a "rate limiting" protection only!
Most current used CAPTCHA images can be easily cracked in a fully automated way using many commercial or opensource services. Commercial services are usually very cheap and provide a simple API for most programming languages.
It is not recommended to use CAPTCHA protection for security-critical applications, in this case it is more suitable to use SMS text messages or OTP tokens instead.
Example of Google reCAPTCHA cracked in 7 seconds by commercial automated cracking service:
Uploaded: Sun Nov 17 20:03:13 2013
Solved: Sun Nov 17 20:03:23 2013
Text: 270 35524452
Most CAPTCHA images can be cracked in 1-15 seconds, therefore CAPTCHA should be perceived as a rate limiting protection only which stops the attacker for a limited amount of time.
CAPTCHA ("Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart") is a type of challenge-response test used by many web applications to ensure that the response is not generated by a computer.
Description of the Issue
Despite the above-described CAPTCHA weakness, it can be still used against:
- automated sending of many GET/POST requests in a short time where it is undesirable (e.g., SMS/MMS/email flooding), CAPTCHA provides a rate limiting function
enumeration attacks (login, registration or password reset forms are often vulnerable to enumeration attacks - without CAPTCHA the attacker can gain valid usernames, phone numbers or any other sensitive information in a short time)
automated creation/using of the account that should be used only by humans (e.g., creating webmail accounts, stop spamming)
automated posting to blogs, forums and wikis, whether as a result of commercial promotion, or harassment and vandalism
any automated attacks that massively gain or misuse sensitive information from the application
- simple enumeration attacks, simple spambots/adbots and less sophisticated attackers
In security critical applications it is more suitable to use alternative verification channels (SMS authentication, OTP etc).
Using CAPTCHAs as a CSRF protection is not recommended (because there are stronger CSRF countermeasures).
Common CAPTCHA vulnerabilities:
- generated image CAPTCHA is weak (be aware that most current CAPTCHAs can be considered to be weak and easily crackable using existing CAPTCHA cracking services)
- generated CAPTCHA questions have a very limited set of possible answers
- the value of decoded CAPTCHA is sent by the client (as a GET parameter or as a hidden field of POST form). This value is often:
- encrypted by simple algorithm and can be easily decrypted by observing of multiple decoded CAPTCHA values
- hashed by a weak hash function (e.g., MD5) that can be easily broken
- possibility of replay attacks:
- the application does not keep track of what ID of CAPTCHA image is sent to the user. Therefore, the attacker can simply obtain an appropriate CAPTCHA image and its ID, solve it, and send the value of the decoded CAPTCHA with its corresponding ID (the ID of a CAPTCHA could be a hash of the decoded CAPTCHA or any unique identifier)
- the application does not destroy the session when the correct phrase is entered - by reusing the session ID of a known CAPTCHA it is possible to bypass CAPTCHA protected page
Because the CAPTCHA cracking attacks always improve and will improve in the future with decreasing price, CAPTCHA should be perceived as a rate-limiting protection. If it is implemented, no CAPTCHA information (except the image itself) should be stored on the client side.
Black Box testing and example
Testing for Topic X vulnerabilities: