title: "Trouble with OCSP"
tags: ocsp, tor, security, privacy
> This is a post about side channel information leak present in OnionBrowser OCSP requests. This post omits a lot of details about OCSP protocol.
Digital certificates usually have long expiration, to reduce
maintenance overhead. Most of the cases CAs issue a certificate for
But what are we to do when a certificate is compromised? We can
re-issue a certificate, but compromised certificate is still in the
wind. Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) is designed to help
with this exact situation. It defines a way to check validity of a
certificate in a timely[^1] manner.
OCSP[^2] works roughly as follows in an https connection:
1. Client looks up the OCSP responder server from `AuthorityInfoAccess` section in the certificate.
2. Client crafts a OCSP request and sends it to OCSP responder (server provided by the CA).
3. Responder returns the current status of the certificate, one of `good`, `revoked` or `unknown`
> Note: There are many other interactions defined in the OCSP ecosystem. Maybe
> the most important one is [OCSP Stapling](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OCSP_stapling). In stapling
> the original request server sends back OCSP validation message with
> the certificate itself, removing the need for another seperate
## Dissecting an OCSP Request
If the request is less than `255 bytes`, OCSP allows it to be passed as a GET path. A typical request looks like this
The request is `URL-Encoded > BASE64 encoded > ASN-1` data. After decoding, one can use `ocsptool` from [GnuTLS](https://www.gnutls.org/) to read it.
echo -n "MFgwVqADAgEAME8wTTBLMAkGBSsOAwIaBQAEFH7maudymrP8%2BKIgZGwWoS1gcQhdBBSoSmpjBH3duubRObemRWXv86jsoQISA6D%2BPqgUVCy3wtolHIxq%2Bk0e" \
| python -c "import sys, urllib.parse as ul; print(ul.unquote(sys.stdin.read()));" \
| base64 -d \
| ocsptool -i
OCSP Request Information:
Hash Algorithm: SHA1
Issuer Name Hash: 7ee66ae7729ab3fcf8a220646c16a12d6071085d
Issuer Key Hash: a84a6a63047dddbae6d139b7a64565eff3a8eca1
Serial Number: 03a0fe3ea814542cb7c2da251c8c6afa4d1e
.. and then lookup the cert parameters
Issuer: (CA ID: 16418)
commonName = Let's Encrypt Authority X3
organizationName = Let's Encrypt
countryName = US
Not Before: Mar 29 00:08:51 2019 GMT
Not After : Jun 27 00:08:51 2019 GMT
commonName = check.torproject.org
## Privacy Takes a Backseat.
Careful examination of above workflow will reveal that the OCSP flow
is happening over HTTP. With the above dissecting example, an attacker
will know that it is highly probable that user is accessing
Most issuers seem to stick to http; possibly to avoid cyclical
dependencies. This means man-in-the-middle leakage of certificates a
user is validating is happening, and by extension leakage of websites
user is accessing.
## Onion Browser
iOS has inbuilt mechanism for checking revocations. They seem to be
only enforced for
certificates though. This is not a bad thing at all, but it creates a
weird situation where it leaks urls with EV certs from [Onion
(as far as I can tell) Tor browser on iOS.
Whenever Onion Browser accesses a website with EV cert, (for e.g
<https://check.torproject.com>), the OCSP request is routed via
**regular** transport, not via onion network as one would assume.
An attacker observing network can see any of the OCSP requests, and
thus know a subset of sites user is visiting, even if they are on Tor.
A weird detail is that the [**`.onion` endpoint of NYTimes has
an EV certificate**](https://crt.sh/?id=939411753). The ocsp request
for it is send via plain transport and gets leaked, if you were using
OnionBrowser to access it.
I stumbled upon this accidently while inspecting requests from my
iPhone with [mitmproxy](https://mitmproxy.org/). The bug was reported
to Onion Browser team and [they have a nice write up of the
it is hard to fix. :-(
[^1]: Opposed to checking against a [Certificate Revocation List](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Certificate_revocation_list).
[^2]: Familiar readers will note that this is plain OCSP, the non-stapling kind.