Blue Flower

Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) is an attack that tricks the victim into loading a page that contains a malicious request. It is malicious in the sense that it inherits the identity and privileges of the victim to perform an undesired function on the victim's behalf, like change the victim's e-mail address, home address, or password, or purchase something. CSRF attacks generally target functions that cause a state change on the server but can also be used to access sensitive data


Sometimes, it is possible to store the CSRF attack on the vulnerable site itself. Such vulnerabilities are called Stored CSRF flaws. This can be accomplished by simply storing an IMG or IFRAME tag in a field that accepts HTML, or by a more complex cross-site scripting attack.

How does the attack work?

There are numerous ways in which an end-user can be tricked into loading information from or submitting information to a web application. In order to execute an attack, we must first understand how to generate a malicious request for our victim to execute. Let us consider the following example: Alice wishes to transfer $100 to Bob using bank.com. The request generated by Alice will look similar to the following:

POST http://bank.com/transfer.do HTTP/1.1
...
...
...
Content-Length: 19;

However, Maria notices that the same web application will execute the same transfer using URL parameters as follows:
GET http://bank.com/transfer.do?acct=BOB&amount=100 HTTP/1.1

Maria now decides to exploit this web application vulnerability using Alice as her victim. Maria first constructs the following URL which will transfer $100,000 from Alice's account to her account:

http://bank.com/transfer.do?acct=MARIA&amount=100000

Now that her malicious request is generated, Maria must trick Alice into submitting the request. The most basic method is to send Alice an HTML email containing the following:

<a href="http://bank.com/transfer.do?acct=MARIA&amount=100000">View my Pictures!

View my Pictures!


Assuming Alice is authenticated with the application when she clicks the link, the transfer of $100,000 to Maria's account will occur. However, Maria realizes that if Alice clicks the link, then Alice will notice that a transfer has occurred. Therefore, Maria decides to hide the attack in a zero-byte image:

<img border="0" height="1" src="http://bank.com/transfer.do?acct=MARIA&amount=100000" width="1" />



If this image tag were included in the email, Alice would only see a little box indicating that the browser could not render the image. However, the browser will still submit the request to bank.com without any visual indication that the transfer has taken place.

Prevention


Challenge-Response

Challenge-Response is another defense option for CSRF. The following are some examples of challenge-response options.

  • CAPTCHA
  • Re-Authentication (password)
  • One-time Token

While challenge-response is a very strong defense to CSRF (assuming proper implementation), it does impact user experience. For applications in need of high security, tokens (transparent) and challenge-response should be used on high risk functions.

Client/User Prevention

Since CSRF vulnerabilities are reportedly widespread, it is recommended to follow best practices to mitigate risk. Some mitigating include:

  • Logoff immediately after using a Web application
  • Do not allow your browser to save username/passwords, and do not allow sites to “remember” your login
  • Do not use the same browser to access sensitive applications and to surf the Internet freely (tabbed browsing).

Integrated HTML-enabled mail/browser and newsreader/browser environments pose additional risks since simply viewing a mail message or a news message might lead to the execution of an attack.

Double Submit Cookies

Double submitting cookies is defined as sending the session ID cookie in two different ways for every form request. First as a traditional header value, and again as a hidden form value. When a user visits a site, the site should generate a (cryptographically strong) pseudorandom value and set it as a cookie on the user's machine. This is typically referred to as the session ID. The site should require every form submission to include this pseudorandom value as a hidden form value and also as a cookie value. When a POST request is sent to the site, the request should only be considered valid if the form value and the cookie value are the same. When an attacker submits a form on behalf of a user, he can only modify the values of the form. An attacker cannot read any data sent from the server or modify cookie values, per the same-origin policy. This means that while an attacker can send any value he wants with the form, the attacker will be unable to modify or read the value stored in the cookie. Since the cookie value and the form value must be the same, the attacker will be unable to successfully submit a form unless he is able to guess the session ID value.

While this approach is effective in mitigating the risk of cross-site request forgery, including authenticated session identifiers in HTTP parameters may increase the overall risk of session hijacking. Architects and developers must ensure that no network appliances or custom application code or modules explicitly log or otherwise disclose HTTP POST parameters. An attacker that is able to obtain access to repositories or channels that leak HTTP POST parameters will be able to replay the tokens and perform session hijacking attacks. Note, however, that transparently logging all HTTP POST parameters is a rare occurrence across network systems and web applications as doing so will expose significant sensitive data aside from session identifiers including passwords, credit card numbers, and or social security numbers. Inclusion of the session identifier within HTML can also be leveraged by cross-site scripting attacks to bypass HTTPOnly protections. Most modern browsers prevent client-side script from accessing HTTPOnly cookies. However, this protection is lost if HTTPOnly session identifiers are placed within HTML as client-side script can easily traverse and extract the identifier from the DOM. Developers are still encouraged to implement the synchronizer token pattern as described in this article and implemented in OWASP CSRFGuard.