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Many applications that accept untrusted input strings employ input filtering and validation mechanisms based on the strings' character data. For example, an application's strategy for avoiding cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities may include forbidding <script> tags in inputs. Such blacklisting mechanisms are a useful part of a security strategy, even though they are insufficient for complete input validation and sanitization.

Character information in Java is based on the Unicode Standard. The following table shows the version of Unicode supported by the latest three releases of Java SE.

Java VersionUnicode Version
Java SE 6Unicode Standard, version 4.0 [Unicode 2003]
Java SE 7Unicode Standard, version 6.0.0 [Unicode 2011]
Java SE 8Unicode Standard, version 6.2.0 [Unicode 2012]

Applications that accept untrusted input should normalize the input before validating it.  Normalization is important because in Unicode, the same string can have many different representations.  According to the Unicode Standard [Davis 2008], annex #15, Unicode Normalization Forms:

When implementations keep strings in a normalized form, they can be assured that equivalent strings have a unique binary representation.

Noncompliant Code Example

The Normalizer.normalize() method transforms Unicode text into the standard normalization forms described in Unicode Standard Annex #15 Unicode Normalization FormsFrequently, the most suitable normalization form for performing input validation on arbitrarily encoded strings is KC (NFKC) .

This noncompliant code example attempts to validate the String before performing normalization.

// String s may be user controllable
// \uFE64 is normalized to < and \uFE65 is normalized to > using the NFKC normalization form
String s = "\uFE64" + "script" + "\uFE65";

// Validate
Pattern pattern = Pattern.compile("[<>]"); // Check for angle brackets
Matcher matcher = pattern.matcher(s);
if (matcher.find()) {
  // Found black listed tag
  throw new IllegalStateException();
} else {
  // ...
}

// Normalize
s = Normalizer.normalize(s, Form.NFKC);

The validation logic fails to detect the <script> tag because it is not normalized at the time. Therefore the system accepts the invalid input.

Compliant Solution

This compliant solution normalizes the string before validating it. Alternative representations of the string are normalized to the canonical angle brackets. Consequently, input validation correctly detects the malicious input and throws an IllegalStateException.

String s = "\uFE64" + "script" + "\uFE65";

// Normalize
s = Normalizer.normalize(s, Form.NFKC);

// Validate
Pattern pattern = Pattern.compile("[<>]");
Matcher matcher = pattern.matcher(s);
if (matcher.find()) {
  // Found blacklisted tag
  throw new IllegalStateException();
} else {
  // ...
}

Risk Assessment

Validating input before normalization affords attackers the opportunity to bypass filters and other security mechanisms. It can result in the execution of arbitrary code.

Rule

Severity

Likelihood

Remediation Cost

Priority

Level

IDS01-J

High

Probable

Medium

P12

L1

Automated Detection

ToolVersionCheckerDescription
The Checker Framework

2.1.3

Tainting CheckerTrust and security errors (see Chapter 8)
Fortify1.0

Process_Control

Implemented

Related Guidelines

ISO/IEC TR 24772:2013

Cross-site Scripting [XYT]

MITRE CWE

CWE-289, Authentication bypass by alternate name
CWE-180, Incorrect behavior order: Validate before canonicalize

Android Implementation Details

Android apps can receive string data from the outside and normalize it.

Bibliography

 


            

 

6 Comments

  1. NFKC appears to be the best form for input validation. Any arguments against this?

    1. We still need to know what NFKC actually is...is there a good definition of it that we can cite in this guideline?

      1. This rule is very hard to read.  It starts talking about KC and KD without first defining them.  The first mention of KC and KD is that they should not be applied blindly.  And by the end of the reading of this rule I still don't know what they are other than some types of normalization?

      2. Also, do we only care about this type of normalisation?  What about escaped characters (html/xml/sql etc.).

  2. I would also be interested in the reasons why NFKC is preferred.

  3. I've rewritten the intro and text around the code samples, which should make them clearer now.

    This rule was built to focus on Unicode normalization, but we certainly care aobut other types, such as &gt;. Also path name normaliztaion / canonicalization. See IDS02-J. Canonicalize path names before validating them for more info.