Detect and Avoid This Certificate Validation Trap in .NET!

There is one scary property in .NET which, if misused or forgotten, can make your security champions tremble at night…🙀🙀🙀 As scary as it sounds, the risk of forgetting or misusing the property is pretty serious and I've seen it multiple times sneaking into the source code as part of the pull request. And I keep seeing it still. Therefore this tech tip gets to see the world.☀️

The property I'm talking about is ServicePointManager.ServerCertificateValidationCallback that is part of a System.Net library. This property can be used for custom certificate validation in case you're using a non-trusted certificate authority. One of the scenarios when you can end up using this property is when you're developing and testing new functionality and you're using a self-signed TLS certificate on the server instead of production-level certificates. If this property is not set and you're using a non-trusted certificate, you may get errors like: The underlying connection was closed: Could not establish trust relationship for the SSL/TLS secure channel.

The danger of it is though that once you're done with testing you may forget to clean it up in the source code, and it silently paves it's way out to production… What it results into is that all TLS certificates will be accepted and all HTTPS traffic will be allowed, even the malicious one! This can be extremely destructive from the security perspective and can open up for the man-in-the-middle vulnerability for instance.🔥

So, whenever you see a variation of this piece of code: ServicePointManager.ServerCertificateValidationCallback += (sender, cert, chain, error) => true;

Stall the change immediately and take your time to ensure that you or the one who has added this piece of code know what you're doing and understand the consequences of enabling this property!⛔️

A good thing is that if you're using a Static Application Security Testing (SAST) tool like NDepend, you will get alerted in case anyone attempts enabling this property as part of the PR since a validation like this is typically a part of the security rules collection of the SAST tool.

An important note on alternative implementation in .NET Core and .NET: though ServicePointManager.ServerCertificateValidationCallback is supported both in .NET Framework, in .NET Core and .NET I would recommend to consider an alternative implementation. In .NET a new HttpClientHandler property - HttpClientHandler.DangerousAcceptAnyServerCertificateValidator - makes deactivation of certificate validation for development purposes more secure and scoped to development environment only. For instance, in Startup.cs of your ASP.NET Core Web application you can enable it for development purposes like this:

if ( env.IsDevelopment() )
    httpClientHandler.ServerCertificateCustomValidationCallback = HttpClientHandler.DangerousAcceptAnyServerCertificateValidator;

You can read more about this property here: HttpClientHandler.DangerousAcceptAnyServerCertificateValidator Property

If you would like to learn more about ServerCertificateValidationCallback property, you can check this link: ServicePointManager.ServerCertificateValidationCallback Property

And here you can check one of the Microsoft quality rules which also is about cautious usage of ServerCertificateValidationCallback property: CA5359: Do not disable certificate validation

Stay secure, stay safe!

Thanks for reading and till next tech tip! 😻