Shining a Light on OAuth Abuse with PwnAuth


Spear phishing attacks are seen as one of the biggest cyber threats
to an organization. It only takes one employee to enter their
credentials or run some malware for an entire organization to become
compromised. As such, companies devote significant resources to
preventing credential harvesting and payload-driven social engineering
attacks. Less attention, however, has been paid to a non-traditional,
but just as dangerous, method of social engineering: OAuth abuse. In
an OAuth abuse attack, a victim authorizes a third-party application
to access their account. Once authorized, the application can access
the user’s data without the need for credentials and bypassing any
two-factor authentication that may be in place.

Today, I’m releasing PwnAuth, a platform to
allow organizations and penetration testers an opportunity to test
their ability to detect and respond to OAuth abuse social engineering
campaigns. In releasing the tool, we hope to increase awareness about
this threat, improve the security community’s ability to detect it,
and provide countermeasures for defenders.

Head over to our GitHub to start using PwnAuth.

What is OAuth?

OAuth 2.0 is described as "An open protocol to allow secure
authorization in a simple and standard method from web, mobile and
desktop applications…" It has become the de facto protocol that
major Internet companies such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, and
Microsoft use to facilitate granting third-party applications access
to user data. An application that accesses your Microsoft OneDrive to
allow for easy file sharing is an example of an application that would
leverage OAuth.

Let’s use an application accessing OneDrive as an example to define
some roles in an OAuth authorization flow:

The Application, or "Client"

The third-party application that is requesting access. In this case,
the application that wishes to access your OneDrive files is the "Client."

The API "Resource"

The target application the "Client" wishes to access. In
this case, the Microsoft OneDrive API endpoint is the "Resource."

The "Resource Owner"

The person granting access to a portion of their account. In this
case, you.

The Authorization Server

The Authorization Server presents the interface that the Resource
Owner uses to give or deny consent. The server could be the same as
the API Resource or a different component. In this case, the Microsoft
login portal is the "Authorization Server".


The Scope is defined as the type of access that the third-party
application is requesting. Most API Resources will define a set of
scopes that applications can request. This is similar to the
permissions that an Android phone application would request on
installation. In this example, the application may request access to
your OneDrive files and user profile.

OAuth 2.0 provides several different authorization "grant
types" to facilitate the different applications that we, as
users, interact with. For the purpose of this post, we are interested
in the "Authorization Code" grant type, which is used by web
applications implementing OAuth. The following is an example
authorization flow:

1.  A "Consent" link is created that directs the Resource
Owner to the Authorization Server with parameters identifying the
Application and the scopes requested.

2.  The Resource Owner will be presented with an authorization
prompt, stating the application name and requested scopes. The
Resource Owner has the option to approve or deny this authorization request.

3.  Upon approval, the Authorization Server will redirect back to
the Application with an authorization code.

HTTP/1.1 200
Content-Type: application/json
Pragma: no-cache

4.  The Application can then use the authorization code and request
an access token from the Authorization Server. Access tokens can be
used for a set duration of time to access the user’s data from the API
Resource, without any further action by the Resource Owner.

Room For Abuse

OAuth applications provide an ideal vector through which attackers
could compromise a target and harvest confidential data such as email,
contacts, and files. An attacker could create a malicious application
and use the obtained access tokens to retrieve victims’ account data
via the API Resource. The access tokens do not require knowledge of
the user’s password, and bypass any two-factor enforcement. Further,
the only way to remove an attacker’s access is to explicitly revoke
access to the OAuth application. In order to obtain OAuth tokens, an
attacker would need to convince a victim to click a "Consent
link" and approve the application via social engineering. Because
all victim interaction is on sites owned by the legitimate Resource
Provider (e.g. Microsoft), it can be hard for an untrained user to
differentiate between a legitimate OAuth application and a malicious one.

Though likely not the first instance of such campaigns, OAuth abuse
first came to the media’s attention during the 2016 presidential
election. FireEye wrote about APT28’s usage of OAuth abuse to gain
access to emails of U.S. politicians in our M-TRENDS
2017 report
. Since then, FireEye has seen the technique
spread to commodity worms
seeking to spread across Gmail.


PwnAuth is a web application framework I wrote to make it easier for
organizations to test their ability to detect and respond to OAuth
abuse campaigns. The web application provides penetration testers with
an easy-to-use UI to manage malicious OAuth applications, store
gathered OAuth tokens, and interact with API Resources. The
application UI and framework are designed to be easily extendable to
other API Resources through the creation of additional modules. While
any cloud environment that allows OAuth applications could be
targeted, currently PwnAuth ships with a module to support malicious
Office 365 applications that will capture OAuth tokens and facilitate
interaction with the Microsoft Graph API using those captured tokens.
The Office 365 module itself could be further extended, but currently
provides the following:

  • Reading mail
  • Searching the user’s mailbox
  • Reading the
    user’s contacts
  • Downloading messages and attachments
  • Searching OneDrive and downloading files
  • Sending
    messages on behalf of the user

The interface is designed to be intuitive and user-friendly. The
first step to using PwnAuth would be to create a Microsoft
Application. That information must then be entered into PwnAuth
(Figure 1).

Figure 1: Importing a Microsoft App into PwnAuth

Once configured, you can use the generated "Authorization
URL" to phish potential victims. When clicked, PwnAuth will
capture victim OAuth tokens for later use. An example victim listing
is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Listing victim users in PwnAuth

Once PwnAuth has captured a victim’s OAuth token, you can begin to
access their data. Use PwnAuth to query the victim’s mailbox for all
messages containing the string "password", for example
(Figure 3).

Figure 3: Searching the mailbox of a victim

See the GitHub
for more information on usage.


Our FireEye technology stack includes network-based signatures to
detect potentially malicious OAuth consent URLs. Attackers tend to
include certain scopes in malicious apps that can be detected and
flagged. Organizations with social engineering training programs can
add OAuth abuse scenarios to their existing programs to better educate
users about this attacker vector. Additionally, organizations can take
steps to limit the potential impact of malicious OAuth applications
and increase their detection capabilities. The options available to an
organization vary greatly depending on the API Resource, but, in
general, include:

  • Limit the API scopes
    third-party apps can request.
  • Disable third-party apps in
    an organization.
  • Implement a whitelist or blacklist for
  • Query an organization’s user base for all
    consented applications.
  • Log any user consent events and
    report suspicious activity.

Office 365 in particular offers some options for administrators:

I have created a collection of scripts to assist administrators in
hunting for
malicious OAuth applications
in cloud environments. Currently
there is a script to investigate Office 365 tenants with plans to add
other cloud environments.


OAuth abuse attacks are a dangerous and non-traditional phishing
technique that attackers can use to gain access to an organization’s
confidential data. As we move more services to the cloud,
organizations should be careful to lock down third-party application
access and ensure that their monitoring and detection strategy covers
application consent grants. Organizations and security professionals
can use PwnAuth to
test their ability to detect and respond to this new type of attack.

Head over to our GitHub and start using PwnAuth today.

*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from Threat Research authored by Threat Research Blog. Read the original post at: