· security github debian packaging

Spoofing commits to repositories on GitHub

The following has already been reported to GitHub via HackerOne. Someone from GitHub has closed the report as “informative” but told me that it’s a known low-risk issue. As such, while they haven’t explicitly said so, I figure they don’t mind me blogging about it.

Check out this commit in torvalds’ linux.git on GitHub. In case this is fixed, here’s a screenshot of what I see when I look at this link:

GitHub page showing a commit in torvalds/linux with the commit message add super evil code

How did this get past review? It didn’t. You can spoof commits in any repo on GitHub due to the way they handle forks of repositories internally. Instead of copying repositories when forks occur, the objects in the git repository are shared and only the refs are stored per-repository. (GitHub tell me that private repositories are handled differently to avoid private objects leaking out this way. I didn’t verify this but I have no reason to suspect it is not true.)

To reproduce this:

  1. Fork a repository
  2. Push a commit to your fork
  3. Put your commit ref on the end of:
https://github.com/[parent]/[repo]/commit/

That’s all there is to it. You can also add .diff or .patch to the end of the URL and those URLs work too, in the namespace of the parent.

The situation that worries me relates to distribution packaging. Debian has a policy that deltas to packages in the stable repository should be as small as possible, targetting fixes by backporting patches from newer releases.

If you get a bug report on your Debian package with a link to a commit on GitHub, you had better double check that this commit really did come from the upstream author and hasn’t been spoofed in this way. Even if it shows it was authored by the upstream’s GitHub account or email address, this still isn’t proof because this is easily spoofed in git too.

The best defence against being caught out by this is probably signed commits, but if the upstream is not doing that, you can clone the repository from GitHub and check to see that the commit is on a branch that exists in the upstream repository. If the commit is in another fork, the upstream repo won’t have a ref for a branch that contains that commit.


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