ProFTPD: Globbing

What is Globbing?
Globbing is a common Unix shell mechanism for expanding wildcard patterns, for matching multiple filenames. From the glob(7) man page:

  A string is a wildcard pattern if it contains one of the characters
  `?', `*' or `['. Globbing is the operation that expands a wildcard pattern
  into the list of pathnames matching the pattern. Matching is defined by:

    A `?' (not between brackets) matches any single character.

    A `*' (not between brackets) matches any string, including the empty
The RFCs that define FTP do not explicitly mention globbing; this means that FTP servers are not required to support globbing in order to be compliant. However, many FTP servers do support globbing (including ProFTPD), as a measure of convenience for FTP clients and users.

The mget ftp(1) command commonly uses globbing to retrieve multiple files, e.g.:

  ftp> mget *.gz
  ftp> mget pub/music/*.mp3
Other FTP clients may have similar client-side commands for listing and retrieiving multiple files based on globbing expressions.

Why Globbing is an Issue
In order to search for and match the given globbing expression, the code has to search (possibly) many directories, examine each contained filename, and build a list of matching files in memory. This operation can be quite intensive, both CPU- and memory-wise. This intense use of resources led to the original posting of possible Denial of Service (DoS) attacks against proftpd (later, when the culprit was tracked to the underlying library globbing code, other applications were found to be vulnerable as well):
The above bug report shows an example of a globbing expression that was used to attempt a DoS by means of many directory levels.

Some servers (e.g. wu-ftpd) come with their own custom code for handling globs; others (including proftpd) make use of the system's C library routines for globbing. The GNU globbing code, bundled with proftpd, was updated to match the current GNU implementation of globbing in their C library (glibc), and proftpd was changed to always use that bundled GNU code, rather than the host system's globbing functions (as the host code might possibly be unsafe).

Every now and then, this issue is reported on various mailing lists. As some system resources are needed when handling globbing expression, some users report this as a DoS possibility. Which is why proftpd supports a few ways to restrict how globbing is handled, according to the needs of the site.

Globbing Restrictions
ProFTPD has several mechanisms in place for limiting, or disabling entirely, support for globbing. If your site does not require globbing, it is highly recommended that globbing be disabled altogether, by adding this to your proftpd.conf:

  UseGlobbing off

If, on the other hand, your site does need to support globbing (many FTP users will assume that globbing is supported), there are other ways of limiting the amount of resources used when globbing: the RLimitCPU and RLimitMemory configuration directives. In proftpd-1.2.7, these directives were enhanced so that they could be applied strictly to session processes (rather than the daemon process):

  RLimitCPU session ...
  RLimitMemory session ...
And, for the paranoid system administrator, a way of limiting the number of directories supported in a globbing expression was added in 1.2.8rc1: PR_TUNABLE_GLOBBING_MAX_RECURSION. By default, the maximum number of levels supported is 8 (this is the hardcoded default in the GNU library implementation of globbing). To change this to a lower number, compile proftpd using a configure line that looks something like this:
A globbing expression that contains more than the maximum number of supported levels is not executed, but instead an error code signalling "out of memory" is immediately returned, which is GNU's way of saying that it will not handle the expression.

There is a similar limit on the maximum number of files that will be checked for a glob expression. By default, this limit is 100000 (the hardcoded default in the GNU library glob(3) implementation). In the 1.3.3rc1 ProFTPD release, a way of altering this limit was added: PR_TUNABLE_GLOBBING_MAX_MATCHES. For sites which really do require a higher number of files to be matched for their glob expressions, the following configure command can be used:

A globbing expression that needs to examine more files than this limit will have the number of matches silently truncated to the limit (or just below).

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