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May 9, 2020 - 7 minute read - Comments - Thick client proxying Burp

Thick Client Proxying - Part 10 - The hosts File

Welcome to the 10th installment of Thick Client Proxying. A series running since 2016. Woot! Today I will talk about traffic redirection using the hosts file.

This Is Not Really New

Yeah! I realized I have talked about it in 19 different posts but never explicitly wrote about it. I just assumed readers would know this.

If you are already familiar with these concepts please directly go to the How Do We Proxy With This? section.

The hosts File

The hosts file is located at C:\Windows\System32\Drivers\etc\hosts. Each line in the file looks like this:

  • IP-Address domain.
  • google.com

Any change in this file results in a change in the Windows DNS cache. Note that you need admin access to edit this file.

On nix-based operating systems (e.g., GNU/Linux1 and Apple stuff) the hosts file has the same format and functionality. BUT there is no local DNS cache on Linux (not sure about Apple operating systems). The OS checks this file before making a DNS request. You could say this file IS the DNS cache. See the hosts manual page for more information.

For the rest of the blog I am going to talk about Windows but the same principle applies to others.

Windows DNS Cache

The complete name for this entity is local DNS resolver cache but I will just call it the Windows DNS cache. When the OS wants to resolve a domain, it will first look in this cache to see if it's already been resolved. If the entry has expired or an entry for that domain does not exist the OS will do a lookup.

Windows DNS Cache in Action

Start your favorite Windows VM (also works on your host) and start doing things.

Note for Hyper-V Users

For some reason, Hyper-V Windows VMs do not update their local DNS cache. It remains empty. I do not know the reason but the solution is to manually configure a DNS server in the VM.

  1. Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network Connections in the VM.
  2. Right click on the Ethernet Adapter and select Properties.
  3. Select Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) and click the Properties button.
  4. Select the Use the following DNS server addresses radio button.
  5. Enter (or your preferred DNS server like
Hyper-V guest with manual DNS server Hyper-V guest with manual DNS server

Useful Commands

  • View the Windows DNS cache: ipconfig /displaydns or Get-DnsClientCache.
  • Clear the cache: ipconfig /flushdns or Clear-DnsClientCache
    • In my Hyper-V guest ipconfig /flushdns asks for elevation but Clear-DnsClientCache works in a non-elevated PowerShell prompt.
    • In my host both work without elevation.

View the DNS Cache

No we can see the DNS cache in our VM.

  1. Clear the DNS cache.
  2. ping example.net or nslookup example.net
  3. View the DNS cache.
DNS cache after resolving example.net DNS cache after resolving example.net

The Relation Between the hosts File and the DNS Cache

Each line in the hosts file becomes an entry in the DNS cache. Do some experiments:

  1. Open the hosts file in an elevated editor (e.g., notepad as admin).
  2. Add the following entry:
    1. example.net.
  3. Save the file.
  4. Clear the DNS cache.
    1. This removes the extra entries that have been cached.
  5. View the DNS cache.
example.net entry from the hosts file example.net entry from the hosts file

How is This Useful?

I have two proxy usecases for the Windows DNS cache.

  1. We can use it to discover endpoints. Read Thick Client Proxying - Part 9 - The Windows DNS Cache.
  2. We can redirect domains to our proxy.

How Do We Proxy With This?

If your application is using HTTP but is not proxy-aware then you can redirect its endpoints to your proxy listener.

PortSwigger has a great page on invisible proxying. Be sure to read it:

Generic Steps

  1. Identify the endpoints. E.g., example.net:443.
  2. Ping the endpoint to get its IP address. Do this before the next step.
  3. Redirect them to Burp (e.g., localhost) using the hosts file.
    1. We already did it with example.net.
  4. Start a Burp proxy listener on localhost:443. The hosts file does not change the destination port so the Burp listener should be on the same port.
  5. Enable invisible proxying for the Burp listener above.
    1. Proxy > Option > Select the listener > Edit > Request Handling > Check 'Support invisible ....
  6. Add the endpoint's IP address and domain to Project Options > Connections > Hostname Resolution.
    1. This tells Burp use that IP address directly instead of looking up the domain.
  7. Profit.

Now we can open our browser and go to http://example.net.

example.net proxied in Burp example.net proxied in Burp

What If We Are Not Using HTTP?

If your application is not using HTTP then Burp's invisible proxying does not work. It relies on the Host header in the request to identify the endpoint.

There are some cases where the application uses a text-based protocol that can be proxied with Burp.

No Host Header with One Endpoint

If there is only one endpoint, then we can use the Request Handling tab of the proxy listener (where invisible proxying was). It has a redirection setting. You can redirect everything that comes to a specific listener to a specific host and port. Checking Force use of TLS just automatically populates the port field with 443.

Request Handling tab Request Handling tab

If we have multiple endpoints but each use a different port then our work is still easy. We create one listener for each port and use the same technique.

No Host Header with Multiple Endpoints on The Same Port

Then tough luck. I mean, yeah. This is commonly the case where the thickclient talks to several endpoints over TLS on port 443. The problem is that we have no way of telling Burp to differentiate between traffic going to example.net and ea.com without the Host header.

In these cases I usually just proxied one endpoint at a time to see the traffic. The Burp documentation for invisible proxying (linked above) has a section named Redirecting outbound requests (the page does not have anchors so I cannot directly link to the section). It says:

  1. Create a network interface for each endpoint.
  2. Redirect one endpoint to one interface.
  3. Create a separate listener on each interface for each endpoint.
    1. Now each listener only gets one endpoint's traffic.
  4. Use the Request Handling tab above to redirect it to the endpoint.

It's a pain to accomplish as you can imagine. This works if you have a couple of endpoints.


It's not always easy like our example.net example. In fact, it's never easy like this. This section discusses the issues I have usually seen.

I See the Burp Interface Instead of example.net

After browsing to http://example.net the Burp's web interface shows up or it does not connect.

  • Have you added the domain in Hostname Resolution?
    • Burp is asking the OS to resolve domains for it so it's using the hosts file. This means the traffic leaving Burp is redirected back to localhost:443 which is the proxy listener.

Proxy Server is Refusing Connection Error Message

  • Have you set the Firefox or Windows proxy settings to some another value?
  • Is your Burp listener listening on port 443 (or whatever port the application is trying to connect to)?

The Connection times out after a Long Time

  • Have you enabled "invisible proxying"?

TLS Certificate Issues

  • Have you added Burp to the operating system's certificate store?
    • Is the app using a separate certificate store (bundled JVM keystore)?
  • Is there certificate pinning?
  • Is the app looking for a specific Common Name in the generated certificate?


This method has a few limitations:

  1. Doesn't work if your application contacts the endpoint by IP (happens in internal applications) or does its own DNS lookup (very rare as in I have never seen one).
  2. Does not scale. If there are multiple endpoints we have to make one interface per endpoint.

What Did We Learn Here Today?

  • We can proxy using the hosts file.
  • Be sure to somehow tell Burp (or your proxy) where to send the requests.
  • Having multiple endpoints on one port (which is common) is an open problem.

  1. Interjection avoided. [return]