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What is SQL Injection? Learn about Acunetix Web Vulnerability Scanner.

SQL injection is a code injection technique that exploits a security vulnerability occurring in the database layer of an application. The vulnerability is present when user input is either incorrectly filtered for string literal escape characters embedded in SQL statements or user input is not strongly typed and thereby unexpectedly executed. It is an instance of a more general class of vulnerabilities that can occur whenever one programming or scripting language is embedded inside another. SQL injection attacks are also known as SQL insertion attacks

Incorrectly filtered escape characters

This form of SQL injection occurs when user input is not filtered for escape characters and is then passed into an SQL statement. This results in the potential manipulation of the statements performed on the database by the end user of the application.

The following line of code illustrates this vulnerability:

statement = "SELECT * FROM users WHERE name = '" + userName + "';"

This SQL code is designed to pull up the records of the specified username from its table of users. However, if the “userName” variable is crafted in a specific way by a malicious user, the SQL statement may do more than the code author intended. For example, setting the “userName” variable as

a' or 't'='t

renders this SQL statement by the parent language:

SELECT * FROM users WHERE name = 'a' OR 't'='t';

If this code were to be used in an authentication procedure then this example could be used to force the selection of a valid username because the evaluation of ‘t’='t’ is always true.

The following value of “userName” in the statement below would cause the deletion of the “users” table as well as the selection of all data from the “userinfo” table (in essence revealing the information of every user), using an API that allows multiple statements:

a';DROP TABLE users; SELECT * FROM userinfo WHERE 't' = 't

This input renders the final SQL statement as follows:

SELECT * FROM users WHERE name = 'a';DROP TABLE users; SELECT * FROM userinfo WHERE 't' = 't';

While most SQL server implementations allow multiple statements to be executed with one call in this way, some SQL APIs such as PHP’s mysql_query() do not allow this for security reasons. This prevents attackers from injecting entirely separate queries, but doesn’t stop them from modifying queries.

[edit] 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. For example:

statement := "SELECT * FROM userinfo WHERE id = " + a_variable + ";"

It is clear from this statement that the author intended a_variable to be a number correlating to the “id” field. However, if it is in fact a string then the end user may manipulate the statement as they choose, thereby bypassing the need for escape characters. For example, setting a_variable to

1;DROP TABLE users

will drop (delete) the “users” table from the database, since the SQL would be rendered as follows:

SELECT * FROM userinfo WHERE id=1;DROP TABLE users;

[edit] Vulnerabilities inside the database server

Sometimes vulnerabilities can exist within the database server software itself, as was the case with the MySQL server’s mysql_real_escape_string() function[2]. This would allow an attacker to perform a successful SQL injection attack based on bad Unicode characters even if the user’s input is being escaped. This bug was patched with the release of version 5.0.22 (released on 24th May 06).

[edit] Blind SQL injection

Blind SQL Injection is used when a web application is vulnerable to an 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 bit recovered. There are several tools that can automate these attacks once the location of the vulnerability and the target information has been established.[3]

[edit] Conditional responses

One type of blind SQL injection forces the database to evaluate a logical statement on an ordinary application screen.

SELECT booktitle FROM booklist WHERE bookId = 'OOk14cd' AND 1=1;

will result in a normal page while

SELECT booktitle FROM booklist WHERE bookId = 'OOk14cd' AND 1=2;

will likely give a different result if the page is vulnerable to a SQL injection. An injection like this may suggest to the attacker that a blind SQL injection is possible, leaving the attacker to devise statements that evaluate to true or false depending on the contents of another column or table outside of the SELECT statement’s column list.[4]

[edit] Conditional errors

This type of blind SQL injection causes an SQL error by forcing the database to evaluate a statement that causes an error if the WHERE statement is true. For example,

SELECT 1/0 FROM users WHERE username='Ralph';

the division by zero will only be evaluated and result in an error if user Ralph exists.

[edit] Time delays

Time Delays are a type of blind SQL injection that cause the SQL engine to execute a long running query or a time delay statement depending on the logic injected. The attacker can then measure the time the page takes to load to determine if the injected statement is true.

[edit] Preventing SQL injection

To protect against SQL injection, user input must not directly be embedded in SQL statements. Instead, parameterized statements must be used (preferred), or user input must be carefully escaped or filtered.

[edit] Parameterized statements

With most development platforms, parameterized statements can be used that work with parameters (sometimes called placeholders or bind variables) instead of embedding user input in the statement. In many cases, the SQL statement is fixed, and each parameter is a scalar, not a table. The user input is then assigned (bound) to a parameter. This is an example using Java and the JDBC API:

PreparedStatement prep = conn.prepareStatement("SELECT * FROM USERS WHERE USERNAME=? AND PASSWORD=?");
prep.setString(1, username);
prep.setString(2, password);

Similarly, in C#:

using (SqlCommand myCommand = new SqlCommand("SELECT * FROM USERS WHERE USERNAME=@username AND PASSWORD=HASHBYTES('SHA1',
 @password)", myConnection))
        myCommand.Parameters.AddWithValue("@username", user);
        myCommand.Parameters.AddWithValue("@password", pass);

        SqlDataReader myReader = myCommand.ExecuteReader())

In PHP version 5 and above, there are multiple choices for using parameterized statements. The PDO[5] database layer is one of them:

$db = new PDO('pgsql:dbname=database');
$stmt = $db->prepare("SELECT priv FROM testUsers WHERE username=:username AND password=:password");
$stmt->bindParam(':username', $user);
$stmt->bindParam(':password', $pass);

There are also vendor-specific methods; for instance, using the mysqli[6] extension for MySQL 4.1 and above to create parameterized statements[7]:

$db = new mysqli("localhost", "user", "pass", "database");
$stmt = $db -> prepare("SELECT priv FROM testUsers WHERE username=? AND password=?");
$stmt -> bind_param("ss", $user, $pass);
$stmt -> execute();

In ColdFusion, the CFQUERYPARAM statement is useful in conjunction with the CFQUERY statement to nullify the effect of SQL code passed within the CFQUERYPARAM value as part of the SQL clause.[8][9]. An example is below.

<cfquery name="Recordset1" datasource="cafetownsend">
WHERE COMMENT_ID =<cfqueryparam value="#URL.COMMENT_ID#" cfsqltype="cf_sql_numeric">

These solutions do not always work with parameters whose value is a table, such as the right side of an IN expression. For example, many environments do not allow SELECT * FROM ex_users WHERE username IN ('alice', 'bob') to be parameterized as SELECT * FROM ex_users WHERE username IN ? with ? referring to an array supplied by the application. One workaround involves building SQL at run time, looping through an array and escaping each element (see below). Another involves packing into a string in the application and unpacking them with a stored procedure on the server.[10]

[edit] Enforcement at the database level

Currently only the H2 Database Engine supports the ability to enforce query parameterization.[11] However, one drawback is that query by example may not be possible or practical because it’s difficult to implement query by example using parametrized queries.

[edit] Enforcement at the coding level

Using object-relational mapping libraries avoids the need to write SQL code. The ORM library in effect will generate parameterized SQL statements from object-oriented code.

[edit] Escaping

A straight-forward, though error-prone, way to prevent injections is to escape characters that have a special meaning in SQL. The manual for an SQL DBMS explains which characters have a special meaning, which allows creating a comprehensive blacklist of characters that need translation. For instance, every occurrence of a single quote (') in a parameter must be replaced by two single quotes ('') to form a valid SQL string literal. In PHP, for example, it is usual to escape parameters using the function mysql_real_escape_string before sending the SQL query:

$query = sprintf("SELECT * FROM Users where UserName='%s' and Password='%s'",

This is error prone because it is easy to forget to escape a given string.

[edit] Real-world examples

  • On November 1, 2005, a high school student used a SQL injection to break into the site of a Taiwanese information security magazine from the Tech Target group and steal customers’ information.[12]
  • On January 13, 2006, Russian computer criminals broke into a Rhode Island government web site and allegedly stole credit card data from individuals who have done business online with state agencies.[13]
  • On March 29, 2006, Susam Pal discovered a SQL injection flaw in an official Indian government tourism site.[14]
  • On March 2, 2007, Sebastian Bauer discovered a SQL injection flaw in the knorr.de login page.[15]
  • On June 29, 2007, a computer criminal defaced the Microsoft U.K. website using SQL injection. [16][17]. U.K. website The Register quoted a Microsoft spokesperson acknowledging the problem.
  • In January 2008, tens of thousands of PCs were infected by an automated SQL injection attack that exploited a vulnerability in application code that uses Microsoft SQL Server as the database store. [18]
  • In May 2008, a server farm inside China used automated queries to Google’s search engine to identify SQL server websites which were vulnerable to the attack of an automated SQL injection tool. [18][20]
  • In 2008,at least April through August, a sweep of attacks began exploiting the SQL injection vulnerabilities of Microsoft’s IIS web server and SQL Server database server. The attack doesn’t require guessing the name of a table or column, and corrupts all text columns in all tables in a single request. [21] A HTML string that references a malware JavaScript file is appended to each value. When that database value is later displayed to a website visitor, the script attempts several approaches at gaining control over a visitor’s system. The number of exploited web pages is estimated at 500,000[22]
  • On August 17, 2009, the United States Justice Department charged an American citizen Albert Gonzalez and two unnamed Russians with the theft of 130 million credit card numbers using an SQL injection attack. In reportedly “the biggest case of identity theft in American history”, the man stole cards from a number of corporate victims after researching their payment processing systems. Among the companies hit were credit card processor Heartland Payment Systems, convenience store chain 7-Eleven, and supermarket chain Hannaford Brothers.[23]
  • In December 2009, an attacker breached a RockYou! plaintext database containing the unencrypted usernames and passwords of about 32 million users by using a SQL injection attack.[24]

[edit] References

  1. ^ Watson, Carli (2006) Beginning C# 2005 databases ISBN 978-0-470-04406-3, pages 201-5
  2. ^ “E.1.7. Changes in MySQL 5.0.22 (24 May 2006)”. MySQL AB. May 4, 2006. http://dev.mysql.com/doc/refman/5.0/en/news-5-0-22.html. Retrieved May 16, 2008. , “An SQL-injection security hole has been found in multi-byte encoding processing”, retrieved March 20, 2008
  3. ^ “Using SQLBrute to brute force data from a blind SQL injection point”. Justin Clarke. http://www.justinclarke.com/archives/2006/03/sqlbrute.html. Retrieved October 18, 2008. 
  4. ^ Ofer Maor and Amichai Shulman. “Blind SQL Injection: Getting the syntax right”. Imperva. http://www.imperva.com/resources/adc/blind_sql_server_injection.html#getting_syntax_right. Retrieved May 16, 2008.  “This is usually the trickiest part in the blind SQL injection process. If the original queries are simple, this is simple as well. However, if the original query was complex, breaking out of it may require a lot of trial and error.”
  5. ^ Official documentation for the PDO extension, php.net.
  6. ^ Official documentation for Mysqli extension, php.net.
  7. ^ Prepared Statements in PHP and MySQLi, Matt Bango.
  8. ^ Protecting ColdFusion server behaviors from SQL injection vulnerability
  9. ^ Forta.com – Blog
  10. ^ Arrays and Lists in SQL Server 2005 and Beyond by Erland Sommarskog
  11. ^ “SQL Injections: How Not To Get Stuck”. The Codist. May 8, 2007. http://thecodist.com/article/sql-injections-how-not-to-get-stuck. Retrieved February 1, 2010. 
  12. ^ “WHID 2005-46: Teen uses SQL injection to break to a security magazine web site”. Web Application Security Consortium. November 1, 2005. http://www.xiom.com/whid-2005-46. Retrieved December 1, 2009. 
  13. ^ “WHID 2006-3: Russian hackers broke into a RI GOV website”. Web Application Security Consortium. January 13, 2006. http://www.xiom.com/whid-2006-3. Retrieved May 16, 2008. 
  14. ^ “WHID 2006-27: SQL Injection in incredibleindia.org”. Web Application Security Consortium. March 29, 2006. http://www.xiom.com/whid-2006-27. Retrieved March 12, 2010. 
  15. ^ “WHID 2007-12: SQL injection at knorr.de login page”. Web Application Security Consortium. March 2, 2007. http://www.xiom.com/whid-2007-12. Retrieved March 12, 2010. 
  16. ^ Robert (June 29, 2007). “Hacker Defaces Microsoft U.K. Web Page”. cgisecurity.net. http://www.cgisecurity.net/2007/06/hacker-defaces.html. Retrieved May 16, 2008. 
  17. ^ Keith Ward (June 29, 2007). “Hacker Defaces Microsoft U.K. Web Page”. Redmond Channel Partner Online. http://rcpmag.com/news/article.aspx?editorialsid=8762. Retrieved May 16, 2008. 
  18. ^ a b Sumner Lemon, IDG News Service (May 19, 2008). “Mass SQL Injection Attack Targets Chinese Web Sites”. PCWorld. http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/146048/mass_sql_injection_attack_targets_chinese_web_sites.html. Retrieved May 27, 2008. 
  19. ^ Alex Papadimoulis (April 15, 2008). “Oklahoma Leaks Tens of Thousands of Social Security Numbers, Other Sensitive Data”. The Daily WTF. http://thedailywtf.com/Articles/Oklahoma-Leaks-Tens-of-Thousands-of-Social-Security-Numbers,-Other-Sensitive-Data.aspx. Retrieved May 16, 2008. 
  20. ^ Michael Zino (May 1, 2008). “ASCII Encoded/Binary String Automated SQL Injection Attack”. http://www.bloombit.com/Articles/2008/05/ASCII-Encoded-Binary-String-Automated-SQL-Injection.aspx
  21. ^ Giorgio Maone (April 26, 2008). “Mass Attack FAQ”. http://hackademix.net/2008/04/26/mass-attack-faq/
  22. ^ Gregg Keizer (April 25, 2008). “Huge Web hack attack infects 500,000 pages”. http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9080580
  23. ^ “US man ’stole 130m card numbers’”. BBC. August 17, 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8206305.stm. Retrieved August 17, 2009. 
  24. ^ “RockYou Hacker – 30% of Sites Store Plain Text Passwords”. http://www.nytimes.com/external/readwriteweb/2009/12/16/16readwriteweb-rockyou-hacker-30-of-sites-store-plain-text-13200.html

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