Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) Attacks and How to Prevent Them

Risk Factors



Business Impact

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

What Is Cross-Site Scripting?

Cross-site scripting is an application-layer attack exploiting communications between users and applications to gain access to sensitive data or even take over entire applications. Attackers can use vulnerabilities in web applications to send malicious scripts to another end user and then impersonate that user. XSS attacks also provide a gateway for bad actors to carry out phishing, cookie theft, and keylogging.

Attackers can hide these attacks inside legitimate websites. For example, they might inject code into a website that sends them cookie information from any user that visits the website. Since cookies often include saved user identification information, the attacker could be able to impersonate that user.

Cross-Site Scripting is a type of code injection attack.

Protection Against XSS Attacks

There are several ways to protect against cross-site scripting attacks, but here are the top three:

  1. Sanitize user input
  2. Validate user input
  3. Use a content security policy

Sanitizing GET requests and cookies will help you protect sites that allow HTML markup which bad actors can manipulate. Validating data by testing all user and application inputs helps prevent attackers from inserting special characters into dropdown fields in forms. Content security policies tell browsers which content from which domains to accept.

None of these methods are silver bullets, especially because many communications used in XSS attacks are encrypted according to TLS 1.3. Learn more about how you can detect and investigate potential cross-site scripting attacks, even in encrypted traffic, in this post.

Cross-Site Scripting History

The term "cross-site scripting" was introduced in 2000 by Microsoft engineers and soon became the most common web-based application exploit. It remains an extremely common attack. Originally, hackers used Javascript to run an invisible website within a frame of a legitimate website. That allowed them to get data that was entered on the legitimate website and run malicious code.