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The Web Proxy Auto-Discovery Protocol (WPAD) is a method used by clients to locate a URL of a configuration file using DHCP and/or DNS discovery methods. Once detection and download of the configuration file is complete it can be executed to determine the proxy for a specified URL. The WPAD protocol only outlines the mechanism for discovering the location of this file, however the most commonly deployed configuration file format is the Proxy auto-config format originally designed by Netscape in 1996 for Netscape Navigator 2.0.[1] The WPAD protocol was drafted by a consortium of companies including Inktomi Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, RealNetworks, Inc., and Sun Microsystems, Inc.. WPAD is documented in an INTERNET-DRAFT which expired in December 1999.[2] However WPAD is still supported by all major browsers.[citation needed] WPAD was first included with Internet Explorer 5.0.



In order for all browsers in an organization to be supplied the same proxy policy, without configuring each browser manually, both the below technologies are required:

  • Proxy auto-config (PAC) standard: create and publish one central proxy configuration file. Details are discussed in a separate article.
  • Web Proxy Autodiscovery Protocol (WPAD) standard: ensure that an organization's browsers will find this file without manual configuration. This is the topic of this article.

The WPAD standard defines two alternative methods the system administrator can use to publish the location of the proxy configuration file, using the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) or the Domain Name System (DNS):

Before fetching its first page, a web browser implementing this method sends the local DHCP server a DHCPINFORM query, and uses the URL from the WPAD option in the server's reply. If the DHCP server does not provide the desired information, DNS is used. If, for example, the network name of the user's computer is, the browser will try the following URLs in turn until it finds a proxy configuration file within the domain of the client:

  • (in incorrect implementations, see note in Security below)

(Note: These are examples and may not be live URLs.)


  • '''DHCP has a higher priority than DNS: if DHCP provides the WPAD URL, no DNS lookup is performed......Firefox does not support DHCP, only DNS*

DNS lookup removes the first part of the domain name (presumably the client identifier) and replaces it with wpad. Then, it "moves up" in the hierarchy by removing more parts of the domain name, until it finds a WPAD PAC file or leaves the current organisation.

  • The browser guesses where the organisation boundaries are. The guess is often right for domains like '' or '', but wrong for '' (see security below).
  • For DNS lookups, the path of the configuration file is always wpad.dat. For the DHCP protocol, any URL is usable. For traditional reasons, PAC files are often called proxy.pac (of course, files with this name will be ignored by the WPAD DNS search).
  • The MIME type of the configuration file must be "application/x-ns-proxy-autoconfig". Please read Proxy auto-config for more details.
  • Internet Explorer and Konqueror are currently the only browsers offering support for both the DHCP and DNS method, the DNS method is supported by most major browsers.


In order for WPAD to work, a few requirements have to be met:

  • In order to use DHCP, the server must be configured to serve up the "site-local" option 252 ("auto-proxy-config") with a string value of "http://xxx.yyy.zzz.qqq/wpad.dat" (without the quotes) where xxx.yyy.zzz.qqq is the address of a web server (either IP or DNS).
  • In order to use DNS, then a DNS entry is needed for a host named WPAD.
  • The host WPAD must be able to serve a web page.
  • In both cases, the web server must be configured to set up dat files with a MIME type of "application/x-ns-proxy-autoconfig".
  • The file named wpad.dat must be located in the WPAD web site's root directory.
  • Examples for PAC files are shown in Proxy auto-config.
  • Use caution when configuring a WPAD server in a virtual hosting environment. When automatic proxy detection is used, Internet Explorer sends a "Host: <IP address>" header and Firefox sends a "Host: wpad" header. This is unexpected behavior, therefore, it is recommended that the wpad.dat file be hosted under the default Virtual Host rather than its own.
  • Internet Explorer version 6.0.2900.2180.xpsp_sp2_rtm request for "wpad.da" instead of wpad.dat" to the web server.


While greatly simplifying configuration of one organisation's web browsers, the WPAD protocol has to be used with care: simple mistakes can open doors for attackers to change what appears on a users browser:

  • An attacker inside a network can set up a DHCP server that hands out the URL of a malicious PAC script.
  • If the network is '' and the file isn't served, the browsers will go on to request The browser doesn't determine whether this is still inside the organization. See for an example.
  • The same method has been used with This used to serve a wpad.dat file that would redirect all of the user's traffic to an internet auction site.
  • ISP's that have implemented DNS hijacking can break the DNS lookup of the WPAD protocol by directing users to a host that is not a proxy server.

Through the WPAD file, the attacker can point users browsers to their own proxies and intercept and modify all of WWW traffic. Although a simplistic fix for Windows WPAD handling was applied in 2005, it only fixed the problem for the .com domain. A presentation at Kiwicon showed that the rest of the world was still critically vulnerable to this security hole, with a sample domain registered in New Zealand for testing purposes receiving proxy requests from all over the country at the rate of several a second.

Thus, an administrator should make sure that a user can trust all the DHCP servers in an organisation and that all possible wpad domains for the organisation are under control. Furthermore, if there's no wpad domain configured for an organisation, a user will go to whatever external location has the next wpad site in the domain hierarchy and use that for its configuration. This allows whoever registers the wpad subdomain in a particular country to perform a man-in-the-middle attack on large portions of that country's internet traffic by setting themselves as a proxy for all traffic or sites of interest.

On top of these traps, the WPAD method fetches a JavaScript file and executes it on all users browsers, even when they have disabled JavaScript for viewing web pages.


  1. ^ "Navigator Proxy Auto-Config File Format". Netscape Navigator Documentation. March 1996. Archived from the original on Dec 18, 2006. Retrieved 2009-09-29. 
  2. ^ Gauthier, Paul; Josh Cohen, Martin Dunsmuir, Charles Perkins (7/28/99). "INTERNET-DRAFT Web Proxy Auto-Discovery Protocol". IETF. Retrieved 2009-10-15. 

Further reading

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