Being safe on the internet (was Re: Here we go again - ISP DPI, but is it interception?)

Matthew Pemble matthew at
Wed Aug 4 11:53:30 BST 2010

On 4 August 2010 10:44, Nicholas Bohm <nbohm at> wrote:

> Matthew Pemble wrote:
>  Or is the point that people are becoming confused between URL
> > truncation and a "Directory Traversal Attack", using the well-known
> > '/../' syntax (just the same as, at the time, appending '.' to a .php
> > URL often gave you the script source rather than the product)?
> > Although Peter's pdf doesn't make it clear although other
> > contemporaneous sources
> > ( do mention the
> > method.
> Yes, I certainly confused the two.  What exactly does the "/../" syntax
> do, and why does it matter to the host?  (The article you link isn't
> explicit enough for me to follow.)

Apologies to those folks on-list for whom this is sucking on a "thousand
year egg".

"Directory Traversal" is a penetration testing technique where you attempt
to gain access to parts of the server file system that are not supposed to
be shared online - in this case ones outside of the context of the
web-server files.

".." normally (i.e. in common Unix and Microsoft filesystems) means "parent
directory" - so "cd .." should take you back up one level in the filesystem.
However. a well-engineered (and configured) webserver should never provide
information outside of the "webroot" - either returning an error (RFC
compliant behaviour - I'd guess at a 403 error) or simply returning the
default page (normal behaviour).

However, IIS 4 and 5 had a number of problems that Microsoft classified
variously as "File Permission Canonicalization" and "Web Server Folder
Traversal" patched from Aug 2000 to Aug 2001 (although the first patch was
against a completely different problem.)  Essentially, if you encoded '/..'
in Unicode and included it in a URL, you could would be returned files
outside of the webroot, including critical system configuration files and
you could also run programs on the local machine.

At the time, a well known vulnerability and, I believe, exploited by the
Nimda worm.

Matthew Pemble
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