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Weird Unicode Behaviors

h3xstream profile image Philippe Arteau Updated on ・2 min read

So you know about Unicode codepoint and encoding (UTF-8, UTF-16), but are you aware that few standard conversions have surprising outcomes? In this short post, I'll list some of the most surprising behaviors.

Case Mapping

Case mapping is the behavior behind the uppercase and lowercase functions in your favorite language. Unexpected behaviors can sometimes lead to bugs, some of them affecting software security.

While the strings “go\u017Fecure” and “gosecure” are not equal, a code that applies the uppercase transformation to both strings could mistakenly interpret both strings as being equal.

Here is a demonstration in Python.

>>> "GO\u017FECURE" == "GOSECURE"
False
>>> "GO\u017FECURE".upper() == "GOSECURE"
True

The same behavior applies to Java

>>>"ADM\u0131N".toUpperCase().equals("ADMIN")
$1 ==> true

This behavior occurs because the characters ı (U+0131) and ſ (U+017F) are converted to an ASCII characters as part of Unicode specification. Aside from a few exceptions, you can assume that your language apply these transformation by default.

Normalization

The purpose of normalization is to simplify expressions to allow matching equal or equivalent “meaning”.

Here is a demonstration using normalization functions in Ruby. The five unicode characters become six unicode characters (ASCII only).

irb(main):003:0> "\u216E\u32CE\uFF0E\u209C\u2134".unicode_normalize(:nfkc)
=> "DeV.to"

API can sometimes hide those transformations. For example in C#, the class Uri normalize the hostname from URI entered.

> Console.Write(new Uri("https://faceboo\u212A.com").Host == "facebook.com");
True

Here is a list of APIs with such behavior (see Section Auditing Source Code).

Testing your application

If you have an application that susceptible to issues related to Unicode, you can use this simple cheat sheet.
This cheat sheet can be used by developers to build regression test cases to make sure no characters are being misinterpreted.

Unicode Cheat sheet


If you are curious, you can read the full article with a security focus.

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h3xstream profile

Philippe Arteau

@h3xstream

Security enthusiast interested in web security, crypto, pentest and static analysis.

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