Application Security: Internet Explorer and Cross Site Scripting

Cross site scripting (aka XSS) is one of the most prevalent web application security issue. In OWASP top 10 for 2010, cross site featured prominently in number 2.

Considering the damage that a successful cross site scripting attack is capable of doing, almost all the successful commercial browsers have tried to provide security features that makes it difficult to execute a successful cross site scripting attack. One of the main ways this attack is carried out is by exploiting the browser’s capability for executing scripts.

Starting Internet Explorer 6 SP1, a new attribute is introduced to the cookies to counter the menace of XSS.

This attribute makes the cookie inaccessible to the scripts, thus stopping malicious script code from executing. The cookies with this attribute set are called HTTP only cookie.

A cookie is set on the client with an HTTP response header.

Set-Cookie: =[; =]
[; expires=][; domain=]
[; path=][; secure][; HttpOnly]

The HttpOnly attribute is not case sensitive and it is important to be noted that this feature must be used in coordination with other XSS mitigation to effectively counter XSS, like:

1. Proper input validation.

2. Adequate output encoding whenever any possible user controlled values are rendered back to the browser.

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Application Security: Internet Explorer 8 vulnerabilities

The main class of vulnerability that is detected and patched on Internet Explorer 8 for Windows server include is  Remote Code Execution

As of this writing the latest patch came out on Feb 8, 2011 that contained fixes for the a number of  issues. Some of these include:

CSS Memory Corruption Vulnerability.

Per CVE-2010-3971 this issue came up because of a vulnerability in the CSharedStyleSheet::Notify function in the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) parser in mshtml.dll, that is used in Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 through 8 and other products.  This vulnerability allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code or cause a denial of service (application crash) via a self-referential @import rule in a style sheet.

Uninitialized Memory Corruption Vulnerability.

Per CVE-2011-0035 Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 does not properly handle objects in memory, which allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code by accessing an object that (1) was not properly initialized or (2) is deleted, leading to memory corruption.

Almost all the issues reported lead to remote code execution that if successfully exploited could gain the same user rights as the logged-on user. If a user is logged on with administrative user rights, an attacker who successfully exploited this vulnerability could take complete control of an affected system. An attacker could then install programs; view, change, or delete data; or create new accounts with full user rights.