Mitigate Authorization Code Interception Attacks¶
The following sections describe the impact of the code interception attack and the approaches you can use to mitigate it. You may need to mitigate these kind of attacks when creating an OAuth application that uses the Authorization Code Grant type for authentication.
How can code interception attacks be harmful?¶
A code interception attack is where a malicious client intercepts the authorization code returned from the authorization endpoint and uses it to obtain the access token. OAuth is a popular mechanism for smartphone applications that run on platforms like Android, iOS and Microsoft Windows. These applications generally use the Authorization Code grant type for authentication.
The authorization code grant type flow¶
The application is registered as a handler for a particular URI scheme (e.g., URLs beginning with "
org.wso2.app://"). This means that the application will launch whenever a user navigates to a URL beginning with the custom scheme "
When authentication is required, the application launches the system browser and loads the appropriate page of the identity provider. In this case, the identity provider is the WSO2 Identity Server (IS).
Within WSO2 IS:
The users authenticate themselves.
Approves any user consents regarding the application.
When the user is successfully authenticated, WSO2 IS redirects the user to the redirection URL provided by the application (e.g.,
The browser queries the mobile Operating System (OS) to get a list of applications that handle the URI provided. The mobile OS determines the application(s) and parses the URI.
The native application extracts the authorization code from the parsed URI.
The native application sends the authorization code back to WSO2 IS, which validates the authorization code and returns the access token.
Since multiple applications can be registered as a handler for the specific redirect URI, the vulnerability of this flow, is that a malicious client could also register itself as a handler for the same URI scheme that a legitimate application handles. If this happens, it is a possibility that the operating system will parse the URI to the malicious client. The flow of this attack is illustrated in the following diagram.
In some operating systems such as Android, in step 5 of the flow, the user is prompted to select the application to handle the redirect URI before it is parsed using a "Complete Action Using" activity. This may avoid a malicious application from handling it, as the user can identify and select the legitimate application. However, some operating systems (such as iOS) do not have any such scheme.
Mitigate code interception attacks using PKCE¶
The WSO2 Identity Server supports the Proof Key for Code Exchange (PKCE) specification, which prevents applications from exchanging a maliciously obtained authorization code for an access token by introducing two new OAuth parameters to the normal flow of the authorization code grant type. PKCE is able to mitigate the attack while still being backwards compatible with OAuth servers that do not support PKCE and without any changes to the existing flow.
With PKCE, the client sends the following two additional parameters when requesting an authorization code.
|code_challenge||The client creates and records a secret cryptographically random string (the
|code_challenge_method||This is the method used to transform the
WSO2 Identity Server stores the values of the
code_challenge_method parameters. When the client
exchanges the authorization code for an access token, it passes the
following additional parameter.
|code_verifier||The plain text cryptographically random string that was used to generate the
WSO2 Identity Server then uses the
code_challenge_method to transform the
r sent and compares
it with the
code_challenge . If the comparison fails
code_verifier is sent, WSO2 IS does not respond
with an access token.
Configure PKCE with WSO2 Identity Server¶
In order to mitigate these attacks using PKCE with WSO2 Identity Server, you need to enable PKCE when creating the OAuth application. Follow the steps below to do this.
Configure a new service provider¶
To register your application as a service provider in the WSO2 Identity Server:
Log in to the WSO2 Identity Server Management Console using administrator credentials.
Go to Main > Identity > Service Providers > Add.
Enter a Service Provider Name. Optionally, enter a Description.
- Expand the Inbound Authentication Configuration section and then the OAuth/OpenID Connect Configuration section. Click Configure.
- Select the PKCE Mandatory checkbox and the Support PKCE
'Plain' Transform Algorithm checkbox to enable PKCE.
- See Try Authorization Code Grant to try out PKCE with the authorization code grant type using the WSO2 Playground web application.