A Gov.uk site dedicated to porn?

A Gov.uk site dedicated to porn?


·November 25, 2021

bongoman37 · 9 days ago

It seems to have been taken offline now. Here's the archive[1] link for uh.. research. Obviously, NSFW.

[1]: https://web.archive.org/web/20211125154944/http://charts.dft...

notatoad · 9 days ago


I thought this was going to be about some sneaky exploit where they'd manage to get a gov.uk to forward links to porn or something. But no, it's really a whole subdomain just taken over by some sketchy porn site.

I'm wondering if the porn site operators even know it's happening? Seems the most likely thing is the DfT had a site at that URL, hosted on AWS. And then they shut it down without removing the DNS record and Amazon assigned that IP to somebody else.

tialaramex · 9 days ago

The thing where IP‡ is in the DNS for thing.mycorp.example and later nobody cares about thing.mycorp.example and they give up control without removing the DNS entry - is why you can't get Let's Encrypt certificates by just running a HTTPS web server and you need either plain HTTP, a custom TLS server (it can also do HTTPS but it needs to know about ACME as well) or else DNS.

Lots of bulk hosts will let you pick (or randomly be assigned) a shared IPv4 address like and then - either by luck or often alphabetical order - your aaardvark.mydomain.example gets to be the "default" host which shouldn't exist for HTTPS but does in many popular half-arsed HTTPS web servers including Apache. So now web clients connect to, they send SNI to the bulk host's server - "I'm here to talk to thing.mycorp.example" and it ignores what they said and gives them aaardvark.mydomain.example because that's the "default" now. And if Let's Encrypt accepted that, you could buy some bulk host accounts, impersonate all these abandoned sites and get certificates for them. So, they had to knock that on the head.

The custom TLS server trick works by (ab)using ALPN, lazily made servers like Apache don't ignore ALPN at least unlike SNI, and so the client learns this server wasn't the one with the ALPN it needed to talk to after all and the certificate isn't issued.

‡ isn't a real public address it's just for example purposes here

q3k · 9 days ago

> ‡ isn't a real public address it's just for example purposes here

There’s an RFC for that :)


tialaramex · 9 days ago

I know, but I'd have to go look them up, so I keep using But do keep badgering me, sooner or later it'll stick in my head.

ornornor · 9 days ago

They’re not particularly memorable. I have already forgotten 2/3 just aftee closing the rfc.

FiloSottile · 9 days ago

That’s not really what the issue with the tls-sni challenge was.

How that challenge worked was that the CA would give you a certificate for a fictitious name (say, abc123.acme-challenge.invalid) and you had to present it from the host when asked for that name by the client (the CA) though SNI.

Many hosts that share IPs between customers also let those customers upload their own certificates. The attack just involved uploading a challenge certificate for a colocated site, and letting the host serve it as expected. Even if the host _did_ check that the name on the cert was not the name of another customer (which is itself sometimes impossible), and even if the target site was not abandoned, and even if it had correctly functioning HTTPS, these are fictitious made up names, so the attack would still work.

It involved no ignoring the Host header, or really any misconfiguration, that’s why it requires rolling to tls-alpn.

tialaramex · 9 days ago

Two things, firstly I wasn't (though I can see why you'd think so) talking about tls-sni-01 but about the original intent to deploy http-01 challenges for HTTPS.

Secondly it requires not merely a misconfiguration but a bug, a bug which is so widespread it was pointless to pretend it would get fixed in the foreseeable future. When you receive SNI for foo.bar.example and you understand SNI but don't have a foo.bar.example TLS provides an explicit error case for that. Servers like Apache httpd don't (or at least didn't) bother implementing this, and instead give you a default site and this enables the hijack. You should still be able to find when this was discovered in the ACME list.

notatoad · 9 days ago

(as per the other comment, my guess is incorrect. I didn't actually look at the DNS. No porn site operator is going to accidentally pick the s3 bucket name 'charts.dft.gov.uk')

perl4ever · 9 days ago

I thought this was going to be about a new government website that all UK porn viewers are required to register with. I feel like I've seen a number of threads about that being imminent.

nneonneo · 9 days ago

The site in question is charts.dft.gov.uk (VERY NSFW). It resolves to the CNAME charts.dft.gov.uk.s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com, which is quite clearly hosting a porn site of some kind.

I suppose there's a few possible explanations here: (1) the original site was hosted on S3, and at some point the bucket was dropped and someone else picked it up, (2) it was originally hosted on S3 and the bucket got hacked, (3) someone with access to the DNS has decided to go rogue and point it at a somewhat-legit-looking but fake domain. If there are historical DNS records floating around it might help to narrow down what happened here.

tgv · 9 days ago

I don't think it was #3: Amazon owns and resolves it for amazonaws.com. If you could hack that, you could do much more serious damage. I'm assuming it's #1. Bucket names are global.

Kwpolska · 9 days ago

I believe scenario #3 would be as follows:

1. gov.uk’s DNS server used to point charts.dft.gov.uk to something legitimate 2. Someone hacked gov.uk’s DNS server, and changed this one specific domain to CNAME charts.dft.gov.uk.s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com 3. That same someone set up their porn thing at AWS in a bucket that maps to charts.dft.gov.uk.s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com

tgv · 9 days ago

But why such a specific bucket name? Perhaps the perpetrator did it because he knows how the gov.uk DNS is maintained, but then it would be an inside job. If only the process were as tight and clean as in peppa pig land!

wruza · 9 days ago

I followed few links there and it’s not even a porn site, it just a shallow catalogue of {img-ahref -> img-ahref} which tricks you into “/dating.html” which redirects to some “dating” site. Probably just a SEO bs.

Firefishy · 9 days ago

Sub-domain takeover attack. The sub-domain was CNAME'ed to a S3 bucket and the S3 bucket had likely been deleted. The porn purveyor, re-created a new S3 bucket with pr0n.

A scanner that would have caught the vulnerability: https://tech.ovoenergy.com/how-we-prevented-subdomain-takeov...

Or a grey hat scanner for finding sub-domains vulnerable to takeover: https://github.com/m4ll0k/takeover

ackbar03 · 9 days ago

Yes. These are pretty much standard fodder for bugs reported on somewhere like hackerone. I guess someone who knew what he was doing just decided to take advantage of it lol

qeternity · 9 days ago

> This site is hosted on a Raspberry Pi 4B in the author's living room (behind the couch).

Holding up quite well despite HN frontpage. I love what a bit of caching can do.

EDIT: appears I jinxed it. I get the allure of hosting something in your home, but these days when you can get a decent VPS for $10/yr it doesn’t really make sense.

baobabKoodaa · 9 days ago

> I get the allure of hosting something in your home, but these days when you can get a decent VPS for $10/yr it doesn’t really make sense

When you're hosting static content (like presumably this content is; it's down so I can't say for sure), you should distribute it on a CDN for $0/year. A single VPS can be overwhelmed by traffic just as your Raspberry Pi can.

Iolaum · 9 days ago

Why doesn't it make sense? After 6 months your Rpi4 will be costing less than the VPS. Plus you get the fun of actually doing it.

P.S. Getting weird RPi errors because of power supply makes you appreciate the value proposition of a good VPS :p

baobabKoodaa · 9 days ago

> Why doesn't it make sense? After 6 months your Rpi4 will be costing less than the VPS. Plus you get the fun of actually doing it.

It doesn't make sense because the Raspberry Pi will not be able to serve traffic that one time when your post hits top of HN, which is the one time you really need your hosting plan to work. Yes, it can serve traffic that 99% of time when almost nobody visits your website, but if we look at % of requests served over the timespan of a year, we will see that the website was down for like 95% of users because of that 1 day of downtime.

qeternity · 9 days ago

> After 6 months your Rpi4 will be costing less than the VPS.

No, $10 per year, not per month. That means the rPi payback is 5-6 years, and for inferior hardware and bandwidth.

qeternity · 9 days ago

BuyVM, RamNode, FDC, Virmach (probably in that order).

killingtime74 · 9 days ago

Only if power is free

qeternity · 9 days ago

Properly cached, a single core on a low end VPS should be able to carry some serious weight.

But yeah, I agree. This is static content, and should be hosted on any of the gazillion free tier CDNs. But then you don’t get that warm fuzzy feeling of watching the rPi behind your couch melt into the floor.

Waterluvian · 9 days ago

Unfortunately this looks like a mistake for this context given it isn’t loading now.

Otherwise, for a well-known average traffic load suitable to a Pi, a Pi is a great idea.

lol768 · 9 days ago

Given it's timing out for me, I'm not sure I'd agree it's holding up quite well :P

denton-scratch · 9 days ago

Thecrow.uk is timing out for me; but not the DfT site.

Sephiroth87 · 9 days ago

Sorry for the ot, but do you have any recommendation for $10 vps?

andrewmackrodt · 9 days ago

I used to browse lowendbox which occasionally has good deals from smaller companies who've been around for at least a few years but there's always a risk one day they'll sell, shut down operations or worse just disappear. However, if budget is your number one priority, you can get a years VPS hosting for low double digit dollars a year.

Nowadays a host personal projects on scaleway and netcup (EU based). I've been with the first for a could of years and the second for 6 months now, good service from both.

If you're mainly hosting static* or cacheable content, you may even get by with a raspberry pi running behind cloudflare's free plan with cache enabled. If you don't mind all traffic to your site being served by such a third party of course.

* If you only have static content, GitHub pages can be considered too.

konart · 9 days ago

You can get Oracle Cloud Free for ... free.

laurent92 · 9 days ago

Anything with the name “Oracle” sound like the steps of a thousand lawyers entering your building…

hvgk · 9 days ago

I’m using a Linode $5 running nginx for static here.

pydry · 9 days ago

Look on lowendbox

mandis · 9 days ago

Indeed, I would love to get more details on what all went into it, and how far can we stretch such a SBC.

EDIT: evidently, not far

a012 · 9 days ago

Unless they host their images themselves, but a Pi could handle traffic very well for a static website.

tazjin · 9 days ago

HN traffic isn't that large, maybe a few requests per second.

jacquesm · 9 days ago

You're a decade behind the times. HN can be formidable in the amount of traffic it generates, it all depends on the content and the time of day though.

tentacleuno · 9 days ago

> Visit [redacted], and you’ll be redirected to a subdomain for EU exit hauliers - except the site isn’t there. Instead it’s a WordPress login page. There’s no username field and we feel confident that a brute force attack would be super effective!

> Elsewhere we have the Department for Transport careers page, which sort of does what it says. Clicking on the ‘see all vacancies’ button will redirect you to the civil service jobs site. This isn’t weird in itself, what is weird is that it uses t.co - Twitter’s redirection and domain obscuring tool to do it. Don’t ask us why, we have no idea why they would do this.

This sounds like someone inexperienced with the system is somehow managing it. How can you use a t.co link for... this? I'm surprised this edit got past anyone.

EDIT: Redacted the link just to be on the safe side. It's in the article if anyone's curious.

pxeger1 · 9 days ago

In fact, it's a t.co link that redirects to a bit.ly link that redirects to the actual site!

londons_explore · 9 days ago

This is probably just someone who copied the link from twitter straight into the governments content management system.

The content on this page isn't written by tech people - it's written by policy experts and other civil servants whose expertise isn't exactly how URL's work...

wutbrodo · 9 days ago

> The content on this page isn't written by tech people - it's written by policy experts and other civil servants whose expertise isn't exactly how URL's work...

It doesn't just take a lack of expertise: it takes an extra level of apathy about the quality of your work and general incuriousness about the world. They can see the url they're pasting, and the majority of web users have some intuitive sense of the difference between domains: they are, after all, human-readable.

I can imagine the tail of "confused grandparent" stereotypes that are completely blind to the difference between t.co/622ahdvdj and charts.tf.uk.gov, but people that are that technically illiterate should be nowhere near computers in a professional context.

necovek · 9 days ago

December 2018 snapshot refers to Department of Transport: https://web.archive.org/web/20181227091013/http://charts.dft....

The CNAME of charts.dft.gov.uk.s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com still works, but the reverse DNS of that IP is simply s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com: I am not sure how does one gain control of an s3-website subdomain when "abandoned" (bucket name only?), but someone did.

So the scenario someone described below is pretty likely: DoT drops it, and drops AWS use of the name, but leaves the DNS record in. I wouldn't attribute this to anyone in the DoT.

It would still require intentional action to do so, though, so I wonder if anyone has any clue how do people find out about spurious, unused S3 subdomains that still have DNS pointing at them? Scan the entire internet for domains pointing to s3-website, and check AWS API to see if it's available? Or did someone run into this by accident and decided to poke fun at it while earning some cash along the way?

mh- · 9 days ago

What sometimes happens is someone points a CNAME to a non-existent bucket. Either because they were planning ahead, or someone typo'd a bucket (and thus DNS) name.

There are bots that scan for this. Then someone creates the bucket on S3 and boom, subdomain hijack.

necovek · 9 days ago

That's what I suggested with

>> Scan the entire internet for domains pointing to s3-website, and check AWS API to see if it's available?

What I wonder is how do you scan all the DNS records with their subdomains? Unlike IPv4 address space, which is very decidedly finite and not-too-big, the space of all the subdomains is basically infinite.

Other than using AXFR (zone-transfer DNS request) which is usually restricted, you are searching an unbounded space.

I guess you don't need an AWS API calls since hitting a non-existing bucket with HTTP will let you know: http://something.that.does.not.exist.s3-website-eu-west-1.am...

IOW, how would you write such a bot? :D

mh- · 6 days ago

Watching feeds of Certificate Transparency logs, and optionally going beyond those hostnames by using the newly discovered names to find additional ones, is one approach.

Google hosts a page [0] to search them, but there are other services/APIs that let you consume them in realtime - seeing certificate issuance live.

If you wanted to consume them programmatically without a 3rd party service, everything you need is in this repo [1].

0: https://transparencyreport.google.com/https/certificates

1: https://github.com/google/certificate-transparency-community...

tialaramex · 9 days ago

> how do you scan all the DNS records with their subdomains?

You needn't do this for stuff that would work in these "Hijack" situations.

Your target is any link that gets visited, maybe following a bookmark somebody made in 2018, maybe it's linked from some page that was never updated, maybe it's in an email somebody archived. If you're phishing you have one set of preferences, if you're doing SEO you have different preferences (you want crawlers to see it but not too many humans).

When anything follows that link, a DNS lookup happens. Most of the world's DNS queries and answers (not who asked, but what is looked up and the answer) are sold in bulk as "passive DNS". You buy a passive DNS feed from one of a handful of big suppliers, or if you're cheap you hijack somebody with money's feed.

So, you're working from a pile like:

  www.google.com A
  www.bigbank.com CNAME www1.bigbank.com
  www1.bigbank.com A
  charts.dft.gov.uk CNAME charts.dft.gov.uk.s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com
Obviously you can grep out all those S3 buckets and then you ask S3, hey, does charts.dft.gov.uk exist? And it says of course not, so you create charts.dft.gov.uk as an S3 bucket and you win.

toast0 · 9 days ago

There are size and character limits on DNS, so it's not infinite, although it may still be a pretty large space. Charts.(something well known) could have been a dictionary check though.

AXFR makes it a lot easier though.

Datagenerator · 9 days ago

The most logical to me is, they registered some AWS IPv4 address for one project. Bill didn't get payed and now another customer has been appointed to the same address but now with totally different content. DNS admins at the government forgot about it and here we are.

necovek · 9 days ago

This is very obviously just an S3 bucket-name takeover, so no IP address was hijacked (the IP is the same for all S3 eu-west-1 buckets, I am guessing).

arpa · 9 days ago

A great read in a tongue-in-cheek british style, a welcome change of pace for mind and eyes!

rbanffy · 9 days ago

> Best of British Porn? Not Quite

That's not a very fair assessment. The same way as it's difficult to find British dishes better than, say, minced beef and onion pie, it's challenging to find authentically British porn that's better than this govermnent office provides its people. We should commend the Tory government for its dedication.

ClumsyPilot · 9 days ago

"authentically British porn"

That's a concept I have not pondered before.

rbanffy · 9 days ago

There are things we regret not doing and things we regret doing.

I’m sorry.

belval · 9 days ago

The title should be changed to reflect that the article is actually about .gov.uk domain being used for non-governmental websites.

lima · 9 days ago

...without permission, that is - probably a subdomain takeover, not a disgruntled employee.

belval · 9 days ago

Right, my point was more that I clicked the link thinking that the UK was launching a government-owned porn website.

dddavid · 9 days ago

Both my own site (on a Pi behind the couch) and the gov site were subjected to the hug of death. I've moved thecrow.uk onto a VPS for now and it's back up. Hurray!