H2C Smuggling

This information was taken from https://blog.assetnote.io/2021/03/18/h2c-smuggling/, for more information follow the link.

HTTP2 Over Cleartext (H2C)

A normal HTTP connection typically lasts only for the duration of a single request. However, H2C or “http2 over cleartext” is where a normal transient http connection is upgraded to a persistent connection that uses the http2 binary protocol to communicate continuously instead of for one request using the plaintext http protocol.

The second part of the smuggling occurs when a reverse proxy is used. Normally, when http requests are made to a reverse proxy, the proxy will handle the request, process a series of routing rules, then forward the request onto the backend and then return the response. When a http request includes a Connection: Upgrade header, such as for a websocket connection, the reverse proxy will maintain the persistent connection between the client and server, allowing for the continuous communication needed for these procotols. For a H2C Connection, the RFC requires 3 headers to be present:

Upgrade: h2c
Connection: Upgrade, HTTP2-Settings

So where is the bug? When upgrading a connection, the reverse proxy will often stop handling individual requests, assuming that once the connection has been established, its routing job is done. Using H2C Smuggling, we can bypass rules a reverse proxy uses when processing requests such as path based routing, authentication, or the WAF processing provided we can establish a H2C connection first.


The original blog post points out that not all servers will forward the required headers for a compliant H2C connection upgrade. This means load balancers like AWS ALB/CLB, NGINX, and Apache Traffic Server amongst others will prevent a H2C connection by default. However, at the end of the blog post, he does mention that “not all backends were compliant, and we could test with the non-compliant Connection: Upgrade variant, where the HTTP2-Settings value is omitted from the Connection header.”

Using the tools **[https://github.com/BishopFox/h2csmuggler**](https://github.com/BishopFox/h2csmuggler) and https://github.com/assetnote/h2csmuggler **you can try to bypass the protections imposed** by the proxy establishing a H2C connection and access proxy protected resources.

Last updated