Cross-site request forgery, also known as one-click attack or session riding and abbreviated as CSRF (sometimes pronounced sea-surf) or XSRF, is a type of malicious exploit of a website where unauthorized commands are transmitted from a user that the web application trusts. Unlike cross-site scripting (XSS), which exploits the trust a user has for a particular site, CSRF exploits the trust that a site has in a user's browser.
CSRF vulnerabilities have been known and in some cases exploited since 2001. Because it is carried out from the user's IP address, some website logs might not have evidence of CSRF. Exploits are under-reported, at least publicly, and as of 2007 there are few well-documented examples:
Attackers who can find a reproducible link that executes a specific action on the target page while the victim is logged in can embed such link on a page they control and trick the victim into opening it. The attack carrier link may be placed in a location that the victim is likely to visit while logged into the target site (for example, a discussion forum), or sent in a HTML email body or attachment. A real CSRF vulnerability in uTorrent (CVE-2008-6586) exploited the fact that its web console accessible at localhost:8080 allowed mission-critical actions to be executed as a matter of simple GET request:
Attacks were launched by placing malicious, automatic-action HTML image elements on forums and email spam, so that browsers visiting these pages would open them automatically, without much user action. People running vulnerable uTorrent version at the same time as opening these pages were susceptible to the attack.
When accessing the attack link to the local uTorrent application at localhost:8080, the browser would also always automatically send any existing cookies for that domain. This general property of web browsers enables CSRF attacks to exploit their targeted vulnerabilities and execute hostile actions as long as the user is logged into the target website (in this example, the local uTorrent web interface) at the time of the attack.
A cross-site request forgery is a confused deputy attack against a web browser. The deputy in the bank example is Alice's web browser, which is confused into misusing Alice's authority at Mallory's direction.
CSRF commonly has the following characteristics:
At risk are web applications that perform actions based on input from trusted and authenticated users without requiring the user to authorize the specific action. A user who is authenticated by a cookie saved in the user's web browser could unknowingly send an HTTP request to a site that trusts the user and thereby causes an unwanted action.
In the uTorrent example described above, the attack was facilitated by the fact that uTorrent's web interface used GET request for critical state-changing operations (change credentials, download a file etc.), which RFC 2616 explicitly discourages:
In particular, the convention has been established that the GET and HEAD methods SHOULD NOT have the significance of taking an action other than retrieval. These methods ought to be considered "safe". This allows user agents to represent other methods, such as POST, PUT and DELETE, in a special way, so that the user is made aware of the fact that a possibly unsafe action is being requested.
Because of this assumption, many existing CSRF prevention mechanisms in web frameworks will not cover GET requests, but rather apply the protection only to HTTP methods that are intended to be state-changing.
An attacker may forge a request to log the victim into a target website using the attacker's credentials; this is known as login CSRF. Login CSRF makes various novel attacks possible; for instance, an attacker can later log into the site with his legitimate credentials and view private information like activity history that has been saved in the account. This attack has been demonstrated against Google and Yahoo.
field1=value1&field2=value2) CSRF attack is easily implemented using a simple HTML form and anti-CSRF measures must be applied.
ENCTYPEattribute; such a fake request can be distinguished from legitimate ones by
text/plaincontent type, but if this is not enforced on the server, CSRF can be executed
Additionally, while typically described as a static type of attack, CSRF can also be dynamically constructed as part of a payload for a cross-site scripting attack, as demonstrated by the Samy worm, or constructed on the fly from session information leaked via offsite content and sent to a target as a malicious URL. CSRF tokens could also be sent to a client by an attacker due to session fixation or other vulnerabilities, or guessed via a brute-force attack, rendered on a malicious page that generates thousands of failed requests. The attack class of "Dynamic CSRF", or using a per-client payload for session-specific forgery, was described in 2009 by Nathan Hamiel and Shawn Moyer at the BlackHat Briefings, though the taxonomy has yet to gain wider adoption.
According to the United States Department of Homeland Security, the most dangerous CSRF vulnerability ranks as the 909th most dangerous software bug ever found. Other severity metrics have been issued for CSRF vulnerabilities that result in remote code execution with root privileges as well as a vulnerability that can compromise a root certificate, which will completely undermine a public key infrastructure.
Several things have to happen for cross-site request forgery to succeed:
Given these constraints, an attacker might have difficulty finding logged-in victims or attackable form submissions. On the other hand, attack attempts are easy to mount and invisible to victims, and application designers are less familiar with and prepared for CSRF attacks than they are for, say, password cracking dictionary attacks.
Most CSRF prevention techniques work by embedding additional authentication data into requests that allows the web application to detect requests from unauthorized locations.
Synchronizer token pattern (STP) is a technique where a token, secret and unique value for each request, is embedded by the web application in all HTML forms and verified on the server side. The token may be generated by any method that ensures unpredictability and uniqueness (e.g. using a hash chain of random seed). The attacker is thus unable to place a correct token in their requests to authenticate them.
Example of STP set by Django in a HTML form:
<input type="hidden" name="csrfmiddlewaretoken" value="KbyUmhTLMpYj7CD2di7JKP1P3qmLlkPt" />
STP is the most compatible as it only relies on HTML, but introduces some complexity on the server side, due to the burden associated with checking validity of the token on each single request. As the token is unique and unpredictable, it also enforces proper sequence of events (e.g. screen 1, then 2, then 3) which raises usability problem (e.g. user opens multiple tabs). It can be relaxed by using per session CSRF token instead of per request CSRF token.
Set-Cookie: Csrf-token=i8XNjC4b8KVok4uw5RftR38Wgp2BFwql; expires=Thu, 23-Jul-2015 10:25:33 GMT; Max-Age=31449600; Path=/
csrf_token = HMAC(session_token, application_secret)
This technique is implemented by many modern frameworks, such as Django and AngularJS. Because the token remains constant over the whole user session, it works well with AJAX applications, but does not enforce sequence of events in the web application.
Browser extensions such as RequestPolicy (for Mozilla Firefox) or uMatrix (for both Firefox and Google Chrome/Chromium) can prevent CSRF by providing a default-deny policy for cross-site requests. However, this can significantly interfere with the normal operation of many websites. The CsFire extension (also for Firefox) can mitigate the impact of CSRF with less impact on normal browsing, by removing authentication information from cross-site requests.
The NoScript extension for Firefox mitigates CSRF threats by distinguishing trusted from untrusted sites, and removing authentication & payloads from POST requests sent by untrusted sites to trusted ones. The Application Boundary Enforcer module in NoScript also blocks requests sent from internet pages to local sites (e.g. localhost), preventing CSRF attacks on local services (such as uTorrent) or routers.
The Self Destructing Cookies extension for Firefox does not directly protect from CSRF, but can reduce the attack window, by deleting cookies as soon as they are no longer associated with an open tab.
Various other techniques have been used or proposed for CSRF prevention historically:
X-Requested-With(used by Ruby on Rails before v2.0 and Django before v1.2.5), or checking the HTTP
Refererheader and/or HTTP
Originheader. However, this is insecure - a combination of browser plugins and redirects can allow an attacker to provide custom HTTP headers on a request to any website, hence allowing a forged request.
Refererheader to see if the request is coming from an authorized page is commonly used for embedded network devices because it does not increase memory requirements. However, a request that omits the
Refererheader must be treated as unauthorized because an attacker can suppress the
Refererheader by issuing requests from FTP or HTTPS URLs. This strict
Referervalidation may cause issues with browsers or proxies that omit the
Refererheader for privacy reasons. Also, old versions of Flash (before 9.0.18) allow malicious Flash to generate GET or POST requests with arbitrary HTTP request headers using CRLF Injection. Similar CRLF injection vulnerabilities in a client can be used to spoof the referrer of an HTTP request.
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