Thursday, May 12, 2011
Users are taught to protect themselves from malicious programs by installing sophisticated antivirus software, but often they may also entrust their private information to websites like yours, in which case it's important to protect their data. It's also very important to protect your own data; if you have an online store, you don't want to be robbed.
Over the years companies and webmasters have learned—often the hard way—that web application security is not a joke; we've seen user passwords leaked due to SQL injection attacks, cookies stolen with XSS, and websites taken over by hackers due to negligent input validation.
Today we'll show you some examples of how a web application can be exploited so you can learn from them; for this we'll use Gruyere, an intentionally vulnerable application we use for security training internally, too. Do not probe others' websites for vulnerabilities without permission as it may be perceived as hacking; but you're welcome—nay, encouraged—to run tests on Gruyere.
Client state manipulation - What will happen if I alter the URL?
Let's say you have an image hosting site and you're using a PHP script to display the images users have uploaded:
So what will the application do if I alter the URL to something like this and userpasswords.txt is an actual file?
Will I get the content of userpasswords.txt?
Another example of client state manipulation is when form fields are not validated. For instance, let's say you have this form:
It seems that the username of the submitter is stored in a hidden input field. Well, that's great! Does that mean that if I change the value of that field to another username, I can submit the form as that user? It may very well happen; the user input is apparently not authenticated with, for example, a token which can be verified on the server.
Imagine the situation if that form were part of your shopping cart and I modified the price of a $1000 item to $1, and then placed the order.
Protecting your application against this kind of attack is not easy; take a look at the third part of Gruyere to learn a few tips about how to defend your app.
Cross-site scripting (XSS) - User input can't be trusted
A simple, harmless URL:
But is it truly harmless? If I decode the percent-encoded characters, I get:
<script> alert('0wn3d') </script>
Gruyere, just like many sites with custom error pages, is designed to include the path component in the HTML page. This can introduce security bugs, like XSS, as it introduces user input directly into the rendered HTML page of the web application. You might say, "It's just an alert box, so what?" The thing is, if I can inject an alert box, I can most likely inject something else, too, and maybe steal your cookies which I could use to sign in to your site as you.
Another example is when the stored user input isn't sanitized. Let's say I write a comment on your blog; the comment is simple:
If other users click on my innocent link, I have their cookies:
You can learn how to find XSS vulnerabilities in your own web app and how to fix them in the second part of Gruyere; or, if you're an advanced developer, take a look at the automatic escaping features in template systems we blogged about on our Online Security bl