The checking of user input is often overlooked by web developers but is very important to close serious vulnerabilities in web systems. I am currently working on a project for a client that involves rewriting and designing their existing web application. This process started with looking at their existing system.
Within 10 minutes of investigation I was able to drop their entire database just through their web sites log in box. I was able to do this for the following reasons:
By submitting code similar to what I've written below, I was able to execute whatever SQL I wanted on their database just through my web browser:
'; DROP DATABASE dbname; SELECT * FROM tbluser WHERE username = '
When this input is concatenated with the rest of the database query string, the following SQL query is created and executed on the database:
SELECT * FROM tbluser WHERE username = ''; DROP DATABASE dbname; SELECT * FROM tbluser WHERE username = '';
The first two characters of the user input terminate the first select statement, the next statement does the malicious drop of the database, and the last select statement is a dummy statement to use the original closing quote and make sure the whole query string is valid.
Of course, the attacker needs to know the name of the database or any other database structures that they need to reference, but these are often easy to guess by trial and error or by making the database throw up errors if they are not caught by the web application.
I hope this little demonstration of web app security is useful to web developers and makes clear the point of why checking user input from web forms is important.
This type of web application attack has been given the name of an "SQL Injection" attack since I originally wrote this article, so the title of the article has been changed to reflect this fact even though the validation of user input effects more than just SQL injection attacks.