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How To Prevent SQL Injection

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Despite being a fairly “old” type of cyber attack, SQL injection remains a very popular type of cyber attack. For years, Injection attacks (including SQL injection) used to be the number one security risk according to OWASP’s top ten security risks list. As of 2021, it has moved down to the third position, but injection remains very common and very dangerous, especially for PHP and ASP web applications. 

One of the key reasons why SQL injections remain popular is the fact that vulnerabilities that allow SQL injection are very common across many web applications, while on the other hand, SQL databases often contain confidential data that is very attractive for hackers. 

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at how an SQL injection attack is carried out, the challenges we’ll face when trying to prevent and contain SQL injection attacks, and especially, how to effectively prevent SQL injection and other bot-driven attacks. 

Without further ado, let us begin. 

SQL Injection Attacks: The Concept

SQL injection, as the name suggests, is a type of cyber attack that involves an insertion (or injection) of a SQL query. The cybercriminal acts as an actual user of the application, then injects the SQL query via a supposed client data input to the application. 

To summarize, an SQL injection attack occurs when :

  • An unauthorized data input enters an application from an untrusted source
  • The data input is used to construct an SQL query within the database

Once the SQL query has been successfully injected, the attacker can then access the SQL database and read the sensitive data contained within, modify the data (insert, delete, update ), recover files from the database, and even execute administrative commands on the database, essentially becoming the administrator of the database itself. 

The purpose and degree of severity of SQL injection attacks can greatly vary, depending on the attacker’s creativity and skill. This is why SQL injections are considered very dangerous, and defending against them can be very challenging. 

SQL injection is especially common with PHP and ASP applications that are more vulnerable due to the older interfaces.

How SQL Injections Can Affect Your Database

While as discussed, the potential impacts and severity of impacts of SQL injections can greatly vary depending on the attacker’s creativity and skill level, in general, there are four main impacts of SQL injection attacks: 

  • Compromised data security 

SQL databases typically hold confidential and/or sensitive data, and an attacker can gain access to this data after a successful SQL injection

  • Compromised access control (authentication)

Successful SQL injections can allow attackers to access a user account on the database without needing to know the user credential (username and password). This typically happens due to vulnerabilities caused by the usage of poor SQL commands to check user names and passwords. 

  • Compromised authorization

It’s common for an SQL database to also hold authorization information, and a successful SQL injection can also allow attackers to modify the authorization information. 

  • Compromised data integrity

Since attackers can now access, read, and retrieve confidential information, they can also modify or even delete this data via an SQL injection attack. 

How an SQL Injection Atack Works

While the actual execution of the SQL injection attack can vary depending on the attacker, typically the attack involves three main phases: 

  • Scanning vulnerabilities: Cybercriminals use specialized bots to scan for potential vulnerabilities in the web application. 
  • Injection: Once a vulnerability has been identified, the attacker injects the database with malicious SQL queries. The injection process can happen repeatedly with different variations in an attempt to figure out the database’s content
  • Automation: Once again, the attacker resorts to bots and automated programs to automate the attack (i.e. extracting files from the database, making automated modifications, etc. ) 

By understanding these three different phases, we can devise a strategy on how to prevent the attack and protect the web application from potential SQL injection attempts, as we will discuss below. 

How To Prevent SQL Injection

Manage and Mitigate Vulnerability Scanning Bots

As discussed above, the first and arguably the most dangerous phase of an AQL injection attack is for the attacker to launch vulnerability scanning bots to identify potential vulnerabilities on the website or web application. 

So, one of the most effective methods to protect your system from potential SQL injection attacks is to detect and mitigate the activities form these malicious bots. Datadome’s advanced bot management solution can detect and mitigate SQL vulnerability scanning bots in real-time, as well as protect your system from other malicious bots causing web scraping, credential stuffing/cracking, DDoS, and other types of cyberattacks

Blocking SQL vulnerability scanning bots before they can reach your application will prevent attackers from identifying vulnerabilities, which ultimately will prevent the SQL injection attack itself. 

Limiting Database Administrator Privileges

One of the worst consequences that can happen to your database when impacted by an SQL injection attack is when the attacker gains access to the database’s administrator account. 

To mitigate potential damages, we can limit database administrator privileges, especially for application accounts, so even when the attacker gains access to these accounts, we can contain the damage. 

Making Sure User Input Isn’t Treated as SQL QUeries

We can use parameterized queries and prepared statements to ensure that SQL elements in the user input will not be read as actual SQL queries. Another effective strategy is to use stored procedures that are carefully designed so they can produce the same effect as the use of parameterized queries. 

Whitelisting Input Validation

Whitelisting input validation is another effective method of preventing SQL injection by ensuring only validated data can enter the database. 

Storing Confidential Data Carefully

Take additional measures in storing confidential and sensitive data in the database like end-to-end encryption, password hashing, etc. to mitigate the impact of SQL injection attacks. 

Preventing SQL Injection With DataDome

DataDome offers a comprehensive SQL injection prevention service that utilizes AI and machine learning to detect the presence of SQL vulnerability scanning bots in less than 2 milliseconds. Being a cloud-based solution, when a new SQL injection attack is detected and prevented on one customer’s web application, all DataDome’s customers are instantly protected against this new attack. 

DataDome deploys in minutes on any web infrastructure without needing any modifications to your application’s architecture. Once set up, it runs on autopilot to protect your whole system. 

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