Cross-site Scripting (XSS)
WHAT IS CROSS SITE SCRIPTING
Cross-site scripting (also known as XSS) is a web security vulnerability that allows an attacker to compromise the interactions that users have with a vulnerable application. It allows an attacker to circumvent the same origin policy, which is designed to segregate different websites from each other. Cross-site scripting vulnerabilities normally allow an attacker to masquerade as a victim user, to carry out any actions that the user is able to perform, and to access any of the user’s data. If the victim user has privileged access within the application, then the attacker might be able to gain full control over all of the application’s functionality and data.
Cross-site Scripting (XSS) is a client-side code injection attack. The attacker aims to execute malicious scripts in a web browser of the victim by including malicious code in a legitimate web page or web application. The actual attack occurs when the victim visits the web page or web application that executes the malicious code. The web page or web application becomes a vehicle to deliver the malicious script to the user’s browser. Vulnerable vehicles that are commonly used for Cross-site Scripting attacks are forums, message boards, and web pages that allow comments.
How does XSS work?
What are the types of XSS attacks?
There are three main types of XSS attacks. These are:
- Reflected, where the malicious script comes from the current HTTP request.
- Store Xss, where the malicious script comes from the website’s database.
- Dom-Based Xss, where the vulnerability exists in client-side code rather than server-side code.
Reflected Cross Site Scripting
Reflected Xss is the simplest variety of cross-site scripting. It arises when an application receives data in an HTTP request and includes that data within the immediate response in an unsafe way.
Here is a simple example of a Reflected Xss vulnerability:
<p>Status: All is well.</p>
The application doesn’t perform any other processing of the data, so an attacker can easily construct an attack like this:
<p>Status: <script>/* Bad stuff here... */</script></p>
If the user visits the URL constructed by the attacker, then the attacker’s script executes in the user’s browser, in the context of that user’s session with the application. At that point, the script can carry out any action, and retrieve any data, to which the user has access.
STORED CROSS SITE SCRIPTING
Stored Xss (also known as persistent or second-order XSS) arises when an application receives data from an untrusted source and includes that data within its later HTTP responses in an unsafe way.
The data in question might be submitted to the application via HTTP requests; for example, comments on a blog post, user nicknames in a chat room, or contact details on a customer order. In other cases, the data might arrive from other untrusted sources; for example, a webmail application displaying messages received over SMTP, a marketing application displaying social media posts, or a network monitoring application displaying packet data from network traffic.
Here is a simple example of a Stored Xss vulnerability. A message board application lets users submit messages, which are displayed to other users:
<p>Hello, this is my message!</p>
The application doesn’t perform any other processing of the data, so an attacker can easily send a message that attacks other users:
<p><script>/* Bad stuff here... */</script></p>
DOM-based cross-site scripting
var search = document.getElementById('search').value;
var results = document.getElementById('results');
results.innerHTML = 'You searched for: ' + search;
If the attacker can control the value of the input field, they can easily construct a malicious value that causes their own script to execute:
You searched for: <img src=1 onerror='/* Bad stuff here... */'>
In a typical case, the input field would be populated from part of the HTTP request, such as a URL query string parameter, allowing the attacker to deliver an attack using a malicious URL, in the same manner as reflected XSS.
How to prevent XSS attacks
Preventing cross-site scripting is trivial in some cases but can be much harder depending on the complexity of the application and the ways it handles user-controllable data.
In general, effectively preventing XSS vulnerabilities is likely to involve a combination of the following measures:
- Filter input on arrival. At the point where user input is received, filter as strictly as possible based on what is expected or valid input.
X-Content-Type-Optionsheaders to ensure that browsers interpret the responses in the way you intend.
- Content Security Policy. As a last line of defense, you can use Content Security Policy (CSP) to reduce the severity of any XSS vulnerabilities that still occur.
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