Tightening Up Your Github Security

Vickie Li

GitHub reconnaissance is a tactic attackers use to gather information about their targets. Attackers analyze an organization’s GitHub repositories and check for sensitive data that has been accidentally committed or information, potentially leading to the discovery of a vulnerability. Today, we'll take a look at how attackers research your GitHub repositories. By looking at these recon techniques, you can find out what is revealed through your GitHub repositories and what you can do to tighten up your GitHub security!

Analyzing GitHub Repositories

First, make a list of all GitHub repositories relevant to your organization. You should look at the GitHub repositories of your organization as well as the public repositories of your organization’s employees. A good place to start is searching for your organization’s name in GitHub to find relevant usernames and projects. For example, here are the search results of the term okta. You can find more relevant repositories by going through the public repositories of your organization’s top contributors.

Once you’ve found the organizations or usernames you want to audit, visit their pages. After that it’s time to dive into the code! On the organization or user page, switch the search type to Sources to find the most relevant repositories to audit.

You can then focus your attention on a single repository and go crazy in the search bar! For each search result, pay special attention to the issues and commits sections. These sections are full of potential info leaks: they maypoint attackers to unresolved bugs, potentially problematic code, and recent code fixes and security patches. Recent code changes that have not stood the test of time are more likely to contain bugs. Look at the protection mechanisms implemented and see if you can bypass them.

Then, turn your attention to the code section, searching for potentially vulnerable code snippets. Once you’ve found a file of interest, check the blame and history of the file to see how it was developed.

How to Search for Vulnerabilities in GitHub Repositories

What search terms should you use to find potentially dangerous code efficiently? Here are a few things to look for when auditing your GitHub repositories.

Hardcoded Secrets

First, look for hardcoded secrets such as API keys, encryption keys, and database passwords. Some keywords that often find secrets are key, secret, password, encrypt, API, CSRF, random, hash, MD5, SHA-1, SHA-2, HMAC, api_key, secret_key, was_key, FTP, login, and GitHub_token. You can also regex search for hex or base64 encoded strings, depending on the key format in use.

Sensitive Functionalities

Next, you should search for the sensitive functionalities in the project. Focus on important functions such as authentication, password reset, state-changing actions, and sensitive info reads. Then, review how these components interact with other functionalities. You can use the search terms auth, authentication, password, pass, and login to find these functionalities. Another approach is to follow the code that processes user input. User input such as HTTP request parameters, HTTP headers, HTTP request paths, database entries, file reads, and file uploads provide the entry points for attackers to exploit the application’s vulnerabilities. This can help find common vulnerabilities such as XSS, SQL injections, file uploads, and XXEs. Look for missing security checks and the strength of input validation. Review how the user input gets processed, stored, and transferred. Finally, figure out whether other parts of the application use previously processed user input. You can use the search terms input, file_input, get, user_input, URL, parameter, and read.

Dangerous Functions and Outdated Dependencies

Outdated dependencies and unchecked use of dangerous functions are also a huge source of bugs. Search for dependencies being used and go through the versions list to see if they are outdated. Some search terms you can use are import, resources, and dependencies. You can also search for specific functions, strings, keywords, and coding patterns that are known to be dangerous. For example, you can search for input() in Python code and eval() in PHP code.

Development Side-effects

Search for developer comments, hidden debug functionalities and configuration files. Developer comments can point out obvious programming mistakes, hidden debug functionalities often leading to privilege escalation, and config files allowing attackers to gather more information about your infrastructure. Search terms you can use in this category are todo, deprecated, vulnerable, fix, completed, config, and setup. You can also search for hidden paths, deprecated endpoints, and endpoints in development. These are endpoints that users might not encounter when using the application normally. But if they work and are discovered by an attacker, this may lead to vulnerabilities such as authentication bypass and sensitive information leaks. Search terms you can use in this category are todo, dev, deprecated, vulnerable, removed, HTTP, HTTPS, and FTP.

Weak Cryptography

Finally, search for the use of weak cryptography or hashing algorithms. This is an issue that is hard to find during a black-box test, but is easy to spot when reviewing source code. Look for issues such as weak encryption keys, breakable encryption algorithms, and weak hashing algorithms. Search for terms like ECB, MD4, and MD5.

Automating Vulnerability Analysis for GitHub

If you are looking for a faster approach, you can use tools like Gitrob and Trufflehog to automate the GitHub recon process. Gitrob is a tool that finds potentially sensitive files that are pushed to public repositories on GitHub. You can find Gitrob here. On the other hand, Trufflehog specializes in finding secrets in repositories by searching for high-entropy strings. You can find Trufflehog on GitHub here.

Eliminating GitHub Security Holes

Now that you’ve identified your GitHub weaknesses, here are a few steps that you can take to tighten up your GitHub security. First, every piece of sensitive data exposed through a public GitHub repository should be considered leaked. Therefore, you should rotate every credential found in your repositories. Next, fix or patch vulnerabilities that you have found via code analysis. Again, these weaknesses should be considered public information and you should remediate them ASAP. Finally, remove any additional sensitive information from the repositories and commit histories!

Vickie Li
Investigator of Nerdy Stuff

Vickie Li is a professional investigator of nerdy stuff, with a primary focus on web security. She began her career as a web developer and fell in love with security in the process. Now, she spends her days hunting for vulnerabilities, writing, and blogging about her adventures hacking the web.