What is curl?
curl is an open source command line tool and embeddable library for transferring data over a network. It is one of the most popular and well known open source projects and has over 20 billion installations according to its author Daniel Stenberg. It’s licensed under the curl license which is similar to the MIT license. Its latest version is 8.4.0 as of October 10, 2023 and its hosted on the web at https://curl.se/
Why are we talking about it?
Recently a high severity vulnerability was reported in the project. This vulnerability is tracked in the National Vulnerability Database using the ID CVE-2023-38545. See https://curl.se/docs/CVE-2023-38545.html
There was a lot of chatter in the lead up to the public release of the vulnerability details, but in the end it affected fewer configurations than the early buzz warranted. That said, much like the log4j vulnerability a few years ago, it could have been possible to have a very serious zero day vulnerability in a widely used open source component.
Let’s just look for curl in our SBOM and get on with our day!
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy for components like curl. There are many components that are easily found with scanners and Software Composition Analysis (SCA) tools, but curl is not one of them. It is not easily found due to the programming language it is written in and the languages that are often used to embed it into larger projects.
Why does SCA have trouble finding curl?
On the other hand, languages such as C and C++ do not commonly use repository managers to handle their third-party dependencies. This means it requires much deeper, slower and sometimes human based analysis in order to discover and manage third-party dependencies. Right now it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get SBOMS when scanning C and C++ applications, especially when being built from source code.
curl and libcurl are very often compiled into C and C++ projects and unless a human explicitly puts them in a SBOM you will not know that they are in use.
Where might curl be hiding?
As mentioned before curl is an immensely popular and successful open source project and is embedded in untold thousands of commercial and open source components. It’s also embedded multiple times in almost every Operating System! Let’s walk through some of the most common places you will find curl.
Operating Systems: curl is embedded in almost every operating system. Updates to fix the curl vulnerability will almost certainly be released for currently supported versions of these operating systems. Older versions of OSes will likely remain unpatched and potentially vulnerable.
Do you have dedicated devices with operating systems that do not get updated? Do any require manual intervention to upgrade?
IoT devices: It is extremely common for IoT devices to have dependencies like libcurl in order to download system updates or other network operations. If no upgrades are available, it may be worth a conversation with the IoT vendor to understand their current SBOM and patch process.
Virtual Machines (VMs): VMs are a way of packaging up an entire operating system and a set of applications in order to run multiple virtual computers on a single piece of hardware. A VM looks like a real computer running a standard operating system and will likely have multiple copies of curl and libcurl bundled with the OS, libraries and running applications. You will be unlikely to receive a SBOM for a VM and the applications inside of it. The OS will have one set of dependencies, the required system level services will have another and finally the application will have its own independent SBOM. All of which should be reviewed and updated as needed. If no SBOM is available, use this exercise as the push to make one.
Containers: Containers are a special lightweight method of running applications bundled with all their dependencies. While they are different from a Virtual Machine, it may be helpful to think of them like a VM. It is very common to see curl or libcurl as dependencies in a container, and in fact, this is one of the places where we will see curl automatically discovered and put on a SBOM though container scanning using tools like Syft and Grype (https://github.com/anchore/syft and https://github.com/anchore/grype ). Just because you see one or more copies of curl mentioned in your container’s SBOM, there are likely many other undisclosed copies of curl hiding in the operating system and applications running in the container. The curl seen in the SBOM is likely system level services explicitly requested by the person who put the container together, but these container scans may only be looking at top level components.
Command line tools and Scripts: It is very common for applications to make external calls to command line tools, like the curl command line, in order to perform updates or remote download functions. These dependencies are often overlooked when putting together a SBOM and are almost never found though SCA scanning.
Commercial Products and their OSS dependencies: A commercial product may or may not have a SBOM or open source license disclosure. If it does, take a look for curl, libcurl or email@example.com in the SBOM or open source license file. Again, any disclosed curl may only be one of many actual curl dependencies in a large project.
Open Source Projects: It is very common to see other open source projects use curl for internal network communication and downloads. Sometimes these projects will disclose their use of curl in a SBOM or Open Source license file, but in many cases they will not let end users know.
Wrappers for curl in other ecosystems: It is very common for other program language ecosystems to create “wrappers” for curl in the native programming language and ship a compiled version of curl or libcurl to provide the actual functionality. If you are using a language like Java, Python, Go, etc and you see curl mentioned as an open source project name this project is likely a wrapper from a different group that either depends on a local version of curl or bundles an independent version of curl. These might require separate upgrades for each wrapper, and each system level installation of curl.
Strings that indicate that curl is being used in a product
If you see these strings in a SBOM or Open source License file these are great indicators that curl is being used in a product or project.
Curl Libcurl firstname.lastname@example.org https://curl.se/libcurl/ http://curl.haxx.se/libcurl/
Questions to ask your team to help uncover usage of curl
- Are we doing any automatic downloads in our product? What tools do we use?
- Does the system patch or upgrade or update itself? What library is it using to do so?
- Does the manual or installation instructions mention curl as a dependency or pre-condition for use of the project?
- Is the curl RPM (or equivalent) required to install or build the project?
- Does the product do web scraping or downloading of web site resources? If so, what library is used to perform these functions?
- Do we see curl or libcurl or any variation of that name in our SBOM or license disclosures?
- Do we see the email email@example.com anywhere in our license disclosures?
- What do we see if we grep for libcurl, daniel@haxx or other curl strings in our codebase?
- Does our product require a container to run in? Have we run a SCA scan of the container?
Use this experience to understand what visibly you are getting with your current SBOMs and SCA scans
Every day we get a better understanding of our use of open source and third party software through the use of SBOMs and SCA scanning. There is still a long way to go before we get complete visibility of every product’s SBOM though. This is due to the newness of this process, the complexity of how software is packaged and delivered, and the limitations of current SCA products. curl is used everywhere, but due to how it is packaged and the programming language ecosystems it is used in, it (and other C/C++ dependencies) is not showing up in the SBOMs we review to keep our companies and projects safe and updated. Use the questions in this guide and the areas where tools like curl might be found to help understand the current weaknesses in SBOM completeness and to get ahead of the next vulnerability!