SQL injection vulnerabilities arise in applications where elements of a SQL query originate from an untrusted source. Without precautions, the untrusted data may maliciously alter the query, resulting in information leaks or data modification. The primary means of preventing SQL injection are sanitization and validation, which are typically implemented as parameterized queries and stored procedures.

Suppose a system authenticates users by issuing the following query to a SQL database. If the query returns any results, authentication succeeds; otherwise, authentication fails.

SELECT * FROM db_user WHERE username='<USERNAME>' AND 
                            password='<PASSWORD>'

Suppose an attacker can substitute arbitrary strings for <USERNAME> and <PASSWORD>. In that case, the authentication mechanism can be bypassed by supplying the following <USERNAME> with an arbitrary password:

validuser' OR '1'='1

The authentication routine dynamically constructs the following query:

SELECT * FROM db_user WHERE username='validuser' OR '1'='1' AND password='<PASSWORD>'

If validuser is a valid user name, this SELECT statement yields the validuser record in the table. The password is never checked because username='validuser' is true; consequently, the items after the OR are not tested. As long as the components after the OR generate a syntactically correct SQL expression, the attacker is granted the access of validuser.

Similarly, an attacker could supply the following string for <PASSWORD> with an arbitrary username:

' OR '1'='1

producing the following query:

SELECT * FROM db_user WHERE username='<USERNAME>' AND password='' OR '1'='1'

'1'='1' always evaluates to true, causing the query to yield every row in the database. In this scenario, the attacker would be authenticated without needing a valid username or password.

Noncompliant Code Example

This noncompliant code example shows JDBC code to authenticate a user to a system. The password is passed as a char array, the database connection is created, and then the passwords are hashed.

Unfortunately, this code example permits a SQL injection attack by incorporating the unsanitized input argument username into the SQL command, allowing an attacker to inject validuser' OR '1'='1. The password argument cannot be used to attack this program because it is passed to the hashPassword() function, which also sanitizes the input.

import java.sql.Connection;
import java.sql.DriverManager;
import java.sql.ResultSet;
import java.sql.SQLException;
import java.sql.Statement;

class Login {
  public Connection getConnection() throws SQLException {
    DriverManager.registerDriver(new
            com.microsoft.sqlserver.jdbc.SQLServerDriver());
    String dbConnection = 
      PropertyManager.getProperty("db.connection");
    // Can hold some value like
    // "jdbc:microsoft:sqlserver://<HOST>:1433,<UID>,<PWD>"
    return DriverManager.getConnection(dbConnection);
  }

  String hashPassword(char[] password) {
    // Create hash of password
  }

  public void doPrivilegedAction(String username, char[] password)
                                 throws SQLException {
    Connection connection = getConnection();
    if (connection == null) {
      // Handle error
    }
    try {
      String pwd = hashPassword(password);

      String sqlString = "SELECT * FROM db_user WHERE username = '" 
                         + username +
                         "' AND password = '" + pwd + "'";
      Statement stmt = connection.createStatement();
      ResultSet rs = stmt.executeQuery(sqlString);

      if (!rs.next()) {
        throw new SecurityException(
          "User name or password incorrect"
        );
      }

      // Authenticated; proceed
    } finally {
      try {
        connection.close();
      } catch (SQLException x) {
        // Forward to handler
      }
    }
  }
}

Noncompliant Code Example (PreparedStatement)

The JDBC library provides an API for building SQL commands that sanitize untrusted data. The java.sql.PreparedStatement class properly escapes input strings, preventing SQL injection when used correctly. This code example modifies the doPrivilegedAction() method to use a PreparedStatement instead of java.sql.Statement. However, the prepared statement still permits a SQL injection attack by incorporating the unsanitized input argument username into the prepared statement.

import java.sql.Connection;
import java.sql.DriverManager;
import java.sql.ResultSet;
import java.sql.SQLException;
import java.sql.Statement;

class Login {
  public Connection getConnection() throws SQLException {
    DriverManager.registerDriver(new
            com.microsoft.sqlserver.jdbc.SQLServerDriver());
    String dbConnection = 
      PropertyManager.getProperty("db.connection");
    // Can hold some value like
    // "jdbc:microsoft:sqlserver://<HOST>:1433,<UID>,<PWD>"
    return DriverManager.getConnection(dbConnection);
  }

  String hashPassword(char[] password) {
    // Create hash of password
  }

  public void doPrivilegedAction(
    String username, char[] password
  ) throws SQLException {
    Connection connection = getConnection();
    if (connection == null) {
      // Handle error
    }
    try {
      String pwd = hashPassword(password);
      String sqlString = "select * from db_user where username=" + 
        username + " and password =" + pwd;      
      PreparedStatement stmt = connection.prepareStatement(sqlString);

      ResultSet rs = stmt.executeQuery();
      if (!rs.next()) {
        throw new SecurityException("User name or password incorrect");
      }

      // Authenticated; proceed
    } finally {
      try {
        connection.close();
      } catch (SQLException x) {
        // Forward to handler
      }
    }
  }
}

Compliant Solution (PreparedStatement)

This compliant solution uses a parametric query with a ? character as a placeholder for the argument. This code also validates the length of the username argument, preventing an attacker from submitting an arbitrarily long user name.

  public void doPrivilegedAction(
    String username, char[] password
  ) throws SQLException {
    Connection connection = getConnection();
    if (connection == null) {
      // Handle error
    }
    try {
      String pwd = hashPassword(password);

      // Validate username length
      if (username.length() > 8) {
        // Handle error
      }

      String sqlString = 
        "select * from db_user where username=? and password=?";
      PreparedStatement stmt = connection.prepareStatement(sqlString);
      stmt.setString(1, username);
      stmt.setString(2, pwd);
      ResultSet rs = stmt.executeQuery();
      if (!rs.next()) {
        throw new SecurityException("User name or password incorrect");
      }

      // Authenticated; proceed
    } finally {
      try {
        connection.close();
      } catch (SQLException x) {
        // Forward to handler
      }
    }
  }

Use the set*() methods of the PreparedStatement class to enforce strong type checking. This technique mitigates the SQL injection vulnerability because the input is properly escaped by automatic entrapment within double quotes. Note that prepared statements must be used even with queries that insert data into the database.

Risk Assessment

Failure to sanitize user input before processing or storing it can result in injection attacks.

Rule

Severity

Likelihood

Remediation Cost

Priority

Level

IDS00-J

High

Probable

Medium

P12

L1

Automated Detection

ToolVersionCheckerDescription
The Checker Framework

Tainting CheckerTrust and security errors (see Chapter 8)
CodeSonar
FB.SECURITY.SQL_PREPARED_STATEMENT_GENERATED_FROM_NONCONSTANT_STRING
FB.SECURITY.SQL_NONCONSTANT_STRING_PASSED_TO_EXECUTE
A prepared statement is generated from a nonconstant String
Nonconstant string passed to execute method on an SQL statement
Coverity7.5

SQLI
FB.SQL_PREPARED_STATEMENT_GENERATED_

FB.SQL_NONCONSTANT_STRING_PASSED_TO_EXECUTE

Implemented
Findbugs1.0SQL_NONCONSTANT_STRING_PASSED_TO_EXECUTEImplemented
Fortify1.0

HTTP_Response_Splitting
SQL_Injection__Persistence
SQL_Injection

Implemented
Klocwork

SV.DATA.BOUND
SV.DATA.DB
SV.HTTP_SPLIT
SV.PATH
SV.PATH.INJ
SV.SQL

Implemented
Parasoft Jtest
BD-SECURITY-TDSQLImplemented
SonarQube

S2077

S3649

Executing SQL queries is security-sensitive

SQL queries should not be vulnerable to injection attacks

Related Vulnerabilities

CVE-2008-2370 describes a vulnerability in Apache Tomcat 4.1.0 through 4.1.37, 5.5.0 through 5.5.26, and 6.0.0 through 6.0.16. When a RequestDispatcher is used, Tomcat performs path normalization before removing the query string from the URI, which allows remote attackers to conduct directory traversal attacks and read arbitrary files via a .. (dot dot) in a request parameter.

Related Guidelines

SEI CERT C Coding Standard

STR02-C. Sanitize data passed to complex subsystems

SEI CERT C++ Coding Standard

VOID STR02-CPP. Sanitize data passed to complex subsystems

SEI CERT Perl Coding StandardIDS33-PL. Sanitize untrusted data passed across a trust boundary

ISO/IEC TR 24772:2013

Injection [RST]

MITRE CWE

CWE-116, Improper Encoding or Escaping of Output

Android Implementation Details

This rule uses Microsoft SQL Server as an example to show a database connection. However, on Android, DatabaseHelper from SQLite is used for a database connection. Because Android apps may receive untrusted data via network connections, the rule is applicable.

Bibliography

[OWASP 2005]

A Guide to Building Secure Web Applications and Web Services

[OWASP 2007]

OWASP Top 10 for Java EE

[Seacord 2015]

[W3C 2008]

Section 4.4.3, "Included If Validating"