SQL Injection: A Simple Example
Take a simple login page where a legitimate user would enter his username and password combination to enter a secure area to view his personal details or upload his comments in a forum.
When the legitimate user submits his details, an SQL query is generated from these details and submitted to the database for verification. If valid, the user is allowed access. In other words, the web application that controls the login page will communicate with the database through a series of planned commands so as to verify the username and password combination. On verification, the legitimate user is granted appropriate access.
Through SQL Injection, the hacker may input specifically crafted SQL commands with the intent of bypassing the login form barrier and seeing what lies behind it. This is only possible if the inputs are not properly sanitized (i.e., made invulnerable) and sent directly with the SQL query to the database. SQL Injection vulnerabilities provide the means for a hacker to communicate directly to the database.
The technologies vulnerable to this attack are dynamic script languages including ASP, ASP.NET, PHP, JSP, and CGI. All an attacker needs to perform an SQL Injection hacking attack is a web browser, knowledge of SQL queries and creative guess work to important table and field names. The sheer simplicity of SQL Injection has fueled its popularity.
Forms of SQL injection vulnerabilities
Incorrectly filtered escape characters
This form of SQL injection occurs when user input is not filtered for escape characters and is then passed into a SQL statement. This results in the potential manipulation of the statements performed on the database by the end user of the application.
Incorrect type handling
This form of SQL injection occurs when a user supplied field is not strongly typed or is not checked for type constraints. This could take place when a numeric field is to be used in a SQL statement, but the programmer makes no checks to validate that the user supplied input is numeric.
Blind SQL Injection
Blind SQL Injection is used when a web application is vulnerable to SQL injection but the results of the injection are not visible to the attacker. The page with the vulnerability may not be one that displays data but will display differently depending on the results of a logical statement injected into the legitimate SQL statement called for that page. This type of attack can become time-intensive because a new statement must be crafted for each byte recovered. A tool called Absinthe can automate these attacks once the location of the vulnerability and the target information has been established.
Preventing SQL Injection
To protect against SQL injection, user input must not directly be embedded in SQL statements. Instead, user input must be escaped, or parameterized statements must be used.
Using Parameterized Statements
Parameterized statements use parameters (sometimes called placeholders or bind variables) instead of embedding user input in the statement. In many cases, the SQL statement is fixed. The user input is then assigned (bound) to a parameter.
Enforcing the Use of Parameterized Statements
There are two ways to ensure an application is not vulnerable to SQL injection: using code reviews (which is a manual process), and enforcing the use of parameterized statements. Enforcing the use of parameterized statements means that SQL statements with embedded user input is rejected at runtime.
How to check for SQL injection vulnerabilities
Securing your website and web applications from SQL Injection involves a three-part process:
1. Analysing the present state of security present by performing a thorough audit of your website and web applications for SQL Injection and other hacking vulnerabilities.
2. Making sure that you use coding best practice sanitizing your web applications and all other components of your IT infrastructure.
3. Regularly performing a web security audit after each change and addition to your web components.
Furthermore, the principles you need to keep in mind when checking for SQL Injection and all other hacking techniques are the following: “Which parts of a website we thought are secure are open to hack attacks?” and “what data can we throw at an application to cause it to perform something it shouldn’t do?”.
Checking for SQL Injection vulnerabilities involves auditing your website and web applications. Manual vulnerability auditing is complex and very time-consuming. It also demands a high-level of expertise and the ability to keep track of considerable volumes of code and of all the latest tricks of the hacker’s ‘trade’.
The best way to check whether your web site and applications are vulnerable to SQL injection attacks is by using an automated and heuristic web vulnerability scanner.
An automated web vulnerability scanner crawls your entire website and should automatically check for vulnerabilities to SQL Injection attacks. It will indicate which URLs/scripts are vulnerable to SQL injection so that you can immediately fix the code. Besides SQL injection vulnerabilities a web application scanner will also check for Cross site scripting and other web vulnerabilities.