Guide Types of Attacks

How to prevent SQL injection attacks (SQLI)?

How to prevent SQL injection attacks (SQLI)

How to prevent SQL injection attacks (SQL)?

Imagine that someone has gotten hold of your phone, has started deleting some valuable files, and has begun publishing unwanted things from your ID. Now, imagine a database containing terabytes of data of multiple users accessed by a malicious user. It could be chaos in the making. 

An SQL injection attack can be far more dangerous.  

It was first publicly discussed in 1998, so it is not a newly discovered attack. It is a predictable attack with many known mitigations, yet it continues to be one of the most lethal cyber attacks today. 

Many big players have fallen victim to this attack. These players include – Sony Pictures, Yahoo, and LinkedIn. 

Surprising, isn’t it?

Let us dive deep into what SQL injection is and how we can protect our most valuable data from it.

Some Facts

  • SQL Injection attack was first discovered by an ethical hacker and researcher Jeff Forristal in 1998.
  • According to a survey conducted by global IT security professionals ( Statista), SQL injection attack is one of the most concerning cyber attacks in 2021 and is rated 3.83 on a 5 rating scale.
  • It is ranked 3rd in the Malware Bytes Top 5 Dumbest Threats that work anyway. 
  • OWASP considers SQL injection attacks no.3 threat for web applications.

What is SQL injection attack anyway?

Structured Query Language (SQL) is a programming language used to communicate and manage databases and data systems. It plays the role of helping in the operation, administration, and sending query and database information.  

Databases contain a large chunk of data that may or may not be sensitive personal, operational and financial information. It could be anything from pricing, and inventory information, to product information and quantity.  When a user visits a website and tries to access its data, SQL helps by retrieving and displaying this information.  

In a SQL Injection attack, the cyber attacker exploits the weak points of a web application to steal sensitive information such as social security numbers, bank account information, and username and passwords.  

Cybercriminals supply the various data input fields such as search and login fields with highly malicious commands to infiltrate the defenses of data systems. They supply malicious code to the backend. Then, they try to gain high-privilege access and admin-level control of the data. Once they gain access, they try to steal and modify data or issue commands to the operating system of the victim. 

Modern-day attackers even publish the data on websites that are highly vulnerable or sell data to interested parties on the dark web which can be used for illegal purposes. They manipulate database queries repeatedly until they can find highly sensitive information that they can use to carry out other lethal attacks. 

User login credentials for mail accounts can be used by malicious actors to carry out phishing attacks or they can use social media credentials to spam users to steal their personal information. They may also engage in carrying out wide-scale attacks on multiple users by spamming them with ransomware, adware, and malware. The motive behind SQL injection attacks can be monetary or political in nature.

Characteristics of a successful SQL injection attack are when an attacker can:

  • Read sensitive data from the backend database
  • Bypass authentication
  • Modify and delete data
  • Execute administration operation
  • Issue commands to the operating system
  • Disclose confidential information

Different types of SQL injection attacks

There are three types of SQL injection attacks based on the methods utilized by the threat actor.  They are classified into three categories, mainly:

  • In-band SQL Injection
  • Out-of-band SQL injection
  • Blind SQL Injection

In-band SQL Injection

It is the most widely used type of SQL injection attack by threat actors. It involves the cyber criminal gathering data and launching the attack through the same platform. 

In this, the attacker can either cause the database to create multiple error queries or initiate an attack based on the information he gets through those error messages. 

Another type of in-band SQL injection attack is Union-based SQLi, where the UNION SQL operator is used to gain a single HTTP response containing exploitable data.

Out of band SQLi

It is an attack usually done as an alternative to In-band SQLi, where the attacker uses a different channel to perform an attack. It relies heavily on the strength to transfer data to the attacker from the high frequency of HTTP requests.

Blind SQLi

It is the slowest among all the kinds of SQLi attacks. In this, the attacker sends a high amount of data to the server to know its structure, pattern, and response. The attacker keeps repeating the attack until he has enough information about the database system of a website. 

It is the kind of SQLi used when the attacker has zero information about the database system of the website. 

Blind SQLi can be categorized into two: Time-based and Boolean SQLi. 

Time-based attack is when the attacker makes the database wait for some time to gauge the response time of the database without any data from the website. 

In Boolean SQLi, the attacker sends a query to the database to return a true or false response to gain information about the database.Despite being the least sophisticated cyber attack, it is the most widely faced attack by small and medium-sized businesses. 

In the past, SQL injection-based attacks have cost businesses millions of dollars, not to mention the immense loss of data and personal information that has ultimately caused severe damage to their reputation. Therefore, despite the predictability or unsophisticatedness of the attack, we must be prepared for it.

How do you protect yourself from SQL injection attacks?

The following are the steps one can take to safeguard oneself from SQL injection attacks:

Install a Web Application Firewall (WAF)

One of the ways to detect SQL injection attacks is to have a web application firewall (WAF). No wonder why it is considered as one of the industry best practices for improving the cybersecurity of web applications. It monitors the inbound and outbound traffic on web servers and responds to threats upon identification of vulnerable patterns and anomalies. It acts as an essential gatekeeper between web applications and the internet.

A cybersecurity expert adds a human touch to a web application firewall by setting the right web security rules that give it information about threat actors and vulnerabilities to look out for and block traffic that shows signs of threat. The good thing about Web Application Firewall is that new policies can be added with time for quicker response to threats and instantaneous detection of malicious traffic.

Do data assessments with experts to protect your data.

Work with cybersecurity experts to assess your data and categorize them as per their level of sensitivity. This kind of data assessment will help experts create a better protection framework for your data. They can identify where the sensitive data is stored and deliver solutions to protect it. 

Additionally, they can help you by continuously monitoring data and its access activities. And notifying the right person at the right time in case of any anomalies or suspicious activities. 

Data protection carried out by cybersecurity experts involves utilizing a security solution that continuously monitors data accessibility for suspicious activities such as unauthorized access, malicious query input, and account hijacking.  

Test the web applications regularly.

One of the best ways to prevent a web application from getting attacked by SQLi is to get it regularly tested using Dynamic and Static Analysis with the help of cybersecurity experts.  

It is essential to take the help of experts because testing the web applications of its cybersecurity requires a level of expertise which otherwise could increase the time invested if not.

Dynamic Application Security Testing

In this, the application is assessed across different levels while running it. The OWASP’s ZAP is a vulnerability scanner used to test the application’s security by continuously attacking it for vulnerabilities. 

It constantly sends requests to all the endpoints of an application to identify the kinds of requests that are accepted. It categorizes them for the improvement of the security of web applications overall.

Static Application Security Testing

In static application security testing, experts test the web application without running it. They engage in data flow analysis to figure out the flaws in handling input data and its utilization by the application. 

Then they check whether there is any data validation in place before execution. It is essential to hire security experts for testing web applications because they possess the right expertise to model a suitable cybersecurity framework for applications. 

Other tips

Hire experts for DevOps

It is better to hire experienced developers for web applications who understand the various cybersecurity requirements of web applications and code accordingly. Most of the unsophisticated and predictable attacks exploit weak coding of the web applications. 

Therefore, hiring experts for development is a must.

Stay updated

Always keep yourself updated on the various vulnerabilities and threats by accessing databases prepared by leading cyber awareness bodies such as OWASP, which releases annual lists of top threats to web application security. 

If you want to go to the next level, then hire cybersecurity experts who help you safeguard your entire IT infrastructure, including your web and mobile applications.

Keep your software updated regularly.

It is the most underrated step that most forget to implement which causes them a range of cybersecurity issues. Chances are, that you are using a database management software that is filled with errors and bugs, creating increased space for vulnerabilities. 

These vulnerabilities can be exploited by cybercriminals who are looking to steal all of your sensitive data. Updating your DBMS software is the single simplest step you can take to protect your web application’s data security.

Deploy the Principle of Least Privilege

The Principle of Least Privilege states that permission should be regulated to a point that only required access be given to the user, that is, enough to get the job done. 

Deploying this principle improves the security of the application significantly since all users will be given only the needed permission to access it. This keeps a check on users that exploit excess permissions that are given beyond necessary. 

If a user wants to access a document that is not created by him for reading, he should only be given permission for reading, nothing more.

To conclude

SQLi is definitely not the most modern threat.  But it is still creating trouble for businesses globally, mostly targeted towards small and medium-sized businesses that don’t have cybersecurity awareness about the same. 

We have seen the different reasons that could lead to an SQLi and how an attacker exploits the various vulnerabilities in the web application to modify, steal and delete its data or gain access to its controls. We have also discussed the various steps that a company can take with the help of cybersecurity experts to improve the cybersecurity of its web applications. 

There are other more sophisticated attacks than SQLi such as ransomware attacks. 

You can read about some of the most dangerous ransomware attacks here.

SharkStriker is a cybersecurity company that is known for its award-winning services. 

We have helped various businesses to improve the cybersecurity posture of their web applications significantly, through rigorous testing, assessment, guidance, and measures to improve security. 

We have the perfect blend of human expertise and technology to conduct a range of web application security assessments such that your business can enjoy seamless protection of data without worrying about threats such as SQLi. Enhance your cybersecurity readiness with SharkStriker today. 

Get in touch with our experts to gain detailed guidance on cybersecurity augmentation specific to your industry.

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