SQL Injection

The platform affected can be:

  • Language: SQL
  • Platform: Any (requires interaction with a SQL database)

SQL Injection has become a common issue with database-driven web sites. The flaw is easily detected, and easily exploited, and as such, any site or software package with even a minimal user base is likely to be subject to an attempted attack of this kind.

Essentially, the attack is accomplished by placing a meta character into data input to then place SQL commands in the control plane, which did not exist there before. This flaw depends on the fact that SQL makes no real distinction between the control and data planes.


Example 1


select id, firstname, lastname from authors

If one provided:

Firstname: evil'ex
Lastname: Newman

the query string becomes:

select id, firstname, lastname from authors where forename = 'evil'ex' and surname ='newman'
which the database attempts to run as 

Incorrect syntax near il' as the database tried to execute evil.

A safe version of the above SQL statement could be coded in Java as:

String firstname = req.getParameter("firstname");
String lastname = req.getParameter("lastname");
// FIXME: do your own validation to detect attacks
String query = "SELECT id, firstname, lastname FROM authors WHERE forename = ? and surname = ?";
PreparedStatement pstmt = connection.prepareStatement( query );
pstmt.setString( 1, firstname );
pstmt.setString( 2, lastname );
	ResultSet results = pstmt.execute( );

Example 2

The following C# code dynamically constructs and executes a SQL query that searches for items matching a specified name. The query restricts the items displayed to those where owner matches the user name of the currently-authenticated user.

	string userName = ctx.getAuthenticatedUserName();
	string query = "SELECT * FROM items WHERE owner = "'" 
					+ userName + "' AND itemname = '"  
					+ ItemName.Text + "'";
	sda = new SqlDataAdapter(query, conn);
	DataTable dt = new DataTable();

The query that this code intends to execute follows:

	SELECT * FROM items
	WHERE owner = 
	AND itemname = ;

However, because the query is constructed dynamically by concatenating a constant base query string and a user input string, the query only behaves correctly if itemName does not contain a single-quote character. If an attacker with the user name wiley enters the string “name’ OR ‘a’=’a” for itemName, then the query becomes the following:

	SELECT * FROM items
	WHERE owner = 'wiley'
	AND itemname = 'name' OR 'a'='a';

The addition of the OR ‘a’=’a’ condition causes the where clause to always evaluate to true, so the query becomes logically equivalent to the much simpler query:

	SELECT * FROM items;

This simplification of the query allows the attacker to bypass the requirement that the query only return items owned by the authenticated user; the query now returns all entries stored in the items table, regardless of their specified owner.

Example 3

This example examines the effects of a different malicious value passed to the query constructed and executed in Example 1. If an attacker with the user name hacker enters the string “hacker’); DELETE FROM items; –” for itemName, then the query becomes the following two queries:

	SELECT * FROM items 
	WHERE owner = 'hacker'
	AND itemname = 'name';



Many database servers, including Microsoft® SQL Server 2000, allow multiple SQL statements separated by semicolons to be executed at once. While this attack string results in an error in Oracle and other database servers that do not allow the batch-execution of statements separated by semicolons, in databases that do allow batch execution, this type of attack allows the attacker to execute arbitrary commands against the database.

Notice the trailing pair of hyphens (–), which specifies to most database servers that the remainder of the statement is to be treated as a comment and not executed. In this case the comment character serves to remove the trailing single-quote left over from the modified query. In a database where comments are not allowed to be used in this way, the general attack could still be made effective using a trick similar to the one shown in Example 1. If an attacker enters the string “name’); DELETE FROM items; SELECT * FROM items WHERE ‘a’=’a”, the following three valid statements will be created:

	SELECT * FROM items 
	WHERE owner = 'hacker'
	AND itemname = 'name';


	SELECT * FROM items WHERE 'a'='a';

One traditional approach to preventing SQL injection attacks is to handle them as an input validation problem and either accept only characters from a whitelist of safe values or identify and escape a blacklist of potentially malicious values. Whitelisting can be a very effective means of enforcing strict input validation rules, but parameterized SQL statements require less maintenance and can offer more guarantees with respect to security. As is almost always the case, blacklisting is riddled with loopholes that make it ineffective at preventing SQL injection attacks. For example, attackers can:

  • Target fields that are not quoted
  • Find ways to bypass the need for certain escaped meta-characters
  • Use stored procedures to hide the injected meta-characters

Manually escaping characters in input to SQL queries can help, but it will not make your application secure from SQL injection attacks.

Another solution commonly proposed for dealing with SQL injection attacks is to use stored procedures. Although stored procedures prevent some types of SQL injection attacks, they fail to protect against many others. For example, the following PL/SQL procedure is vulnerable to the same SQL injection attack shown in the first example.

	procedure get_item (
		itm_cv IN OUT ItmCurTyp,
		usr in varchar2,
		itm in varchar2)
		open itm_cv for ' SELECT * FROM items WHERE ' ||
				'owner = '''|| usr || 
				' AND itemname = ''' || itm || '''';
	end get_item;

Stored procedures typically help prevent SQL injection attacks by limiting the types of statements that can be passed to their parameters. However, there are many ways around the limitations and many interesting statements that can still be passed to stored procedures. Again, stored procedures can prevent some exploits, but they will not make your application secure against SQL injection attacks.


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