Click here to close now.


You will be redirected in 30 seconds or close now.

ColdFusion Authors: Yakov Fain, Maureen O'Gara, Nancy Y. Nee, Tad Anderson, Daniel Kaar

Related Topics: ColdFusion, Adobe Flex

ColdFusion: Article

Ben Forta's ColdFusion Blog: SQL Injection Attacks, Easy To Prevent, But Apparently Still Ignored

SQL Injection Attacks, Easy To Prevent, But Apparently Still Ignored

SQL Injection Attacks, Easy To Prevent, But Apparently Still Ignored

I was just on a web site (no, not a ColdFusion powered site, and no I will not name names) browsing for specific content. The URLs used typical name=value query string conventions, and so I changed the value to jump to the page I wanted. And I made a typo and added a character to the numeric value. The result? An invalid SQL error message.

That's bad. Very very bad. It means that I was able to create a SQL statement that was submitted to the database for processing, a SQL statement that was passed to the database as is, unchecked.

You'd think that by now we'd have learned to lock down our code so as to prevent SQL injection attacks, but apparently this is not the case. You do not know what a SQL injection attack is? Well, read on.

Consider the following simple dynamic ColdFusion query:

FROM Customers
WHERE CustID=#URL.custid#
Here a WHERE clause is being populated dynamically using a URL parameter. This type of code is common and popular, and is often used in data drill-down interfaces. If the URL was:
the resulting SQL statement would be:
FROM Customers
WHERE CustID=100
But what if someone tampered with that URL so that it read:
Now the resulting SQL would be:
FROM Customers
WHERE CustID=100;
DELETE Customers
And depending on the DBMS being used, you could end up executing two statements – first the SELECT, and then DELETE Customers (which would promptly delete all data from the Customers table).

Scared? You should be. SQL statements are not just used for queries. They are also used by most DBMSs to create and drop tables, create user logins, change passwords, set security levels, manage scheduled events, even creating and dropping entire databases. And whatever features are supported by your DBMS may be accessible this way.

Before I go further I must point out that this is not a ColdFusion vulnerability at all. In fact, it is not even a bug or a hole. This is truly a feature – many DBMS do indeed allow queries to contain more than a single operation, this is legal and by design.

Of course, you should always be checking parameters anyway before passing them to your DBMS. Passing client supplied data (URL parameters, FORM fields, and even cookies) through unchecked is programmatic suicide. Attacks aside, it is flat out unsafe to ever assume that data submitted by a client can be used as is.

As such, you should already be using code like this:

<cfparam name="URL.CustID" type="integer">
This single line of code will lock SQL injection attacks out. How? Think about it, SQL injection (within ColdFusion apps) is really only an issue with non textual fields. If a text value is tampered with you'll end up with tampered text, but that text will all be part of the core string (within quotes) passed as a value, and will therefore not be executed as separate statements. Numbers, on the other hand, are not enclosed within quotes, and so extraneous text can be tampered with to create an additional SQL statement. And <cfparam> can protect you.

Of course, you may want more control, in which case you could use code like this:

<cfif IsDefined("URL.CustID")
and not IsNumeric(URL.CustID)>

… throw an error or something …

And as an additional line of defense you can use <cfqueryparam>, as seen here:

<cfquery ...>
FROM Customers
WHERE CustID=<cfqueryparam value="#URL.CustID#" cfsqltype="CF_SQL_INTEGER">
If the previous tampered URL was passed to the this query, the value would be rejected and an error would be thrown. The CFSQLTYPE (aside from binding variables) performs data type validation checks, and values that do not match the type are rejected. That's it, only integers allowed, and malicious tampered URL parameters are not integers.

The bottom line is that SQL injection attacks have been around for as long as dynamic SQL itself. ColdFusion has made it incredibly easy to protect yourself against such attacks. Be it <cfparam> or <cfqueryparam> or your own conditional processing, it's simple to protect yourself, and your responsibility to do so.

If you have not been paying attention to this risk, stop whatever you are doing, fire up your IDE, and do a search for every single <cfquery> in your code. Then quickly scan to find any that contain #'s in them (that are not enclosed in quotes or passed to <cfqueryparam>), and make a list of the variables used. If any of them are URL parameters or FORM fields, create a <cfparam> for each (at the top of the page, or before the <cfquery>). It's that simple. Really. There is no legitimate reason not to protect yourself, so just do it. Now! And I mean right now, before you leave for the day or take off for the holidays, and despite whatever project you are working on or deadline you are up against. No excuses (and if your boss complains about you switching gears to take care of this one, send him my way!).

Enough said! (I hope).


More Stories By Ben Forta

Ben Forta is Adobe's Senior Technical Evangelist. In that capacity he spends a considerable amount of time talking and writing about Adobe products (with an emphasis on ColdFusion and Flex), and providing feedback to help shape the future direction of the products. By the way, if you are not yet a ColdFusion user, you should be. It is an incredible product, and is truly deserving of all the praise it has been receiving. In a prior life he was a ColdFusion customer (he wrote one of the first large high visibility web sites using the product) and was so impressed he ended up working for the company that created it (Allaire). Ben is also the author of books on ColdFusion, SQL, Windows 2000, JSP, WAP, Regular Expressions, and more. Before joining Adobe (well, Allaire actually, and then Macromedia and Allaire merged, and then Adobe bought Macromedia) he helped found a company called which provides automotive services (buy a car, sell a car, etc) over the Web. (including Stoneage) is one of the largest automotive web sites out there, was written entirely in ColdFusion, and is now owned by Auto-By-Tel.

Comments (6) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

Most Recent Comments
pranny 03/24/09 08:59:59 AM EDT

I faced the same problem. Search for cfquery across all my apps. And i found billions of pages that need to be modified. I have a small script that helps in automating the process of applying CFQUERYPARAM. Of course, this script is a li'l specific to my need, but with a little modification, anyone can use it. The script is located at

Any suggestions/critism most welcome.

dskinkead 08/06/08 03:08:27 PM EDT

Good info, but I believe you are completely correct about textual data not being a threat.

Let's say you coded in a file named test.cfm:

SELECT * FROM sometable where field1 = '#preservesinglequotes('

Then a user put in this url:';insert into sometable(field1,field2)values('xxx',99998);select * from sometable where field1='x

The result is sql injection. I have tested this and know it to be true. However this will only work if you use "Preservesinglequotes", which I have used many times. So we must protect ourselves even with textual data.

Luis Melo 07/24/08 10:34:54 AM EDT

Our system was not SQL Injection proof and we recently suffered an attack that corrupted the data in some of our database tables. The attack was quite elegant and fortunately did not cause severe damage other than the appending of a SCRIPT sting to a bunch of VARCHAR fields. This was meant to actually execute a JS file and this qualifies as a XSS attack.

In researching the Web for a solution for the problem, and a way to immunize our CF application against further attacks, we came across the CFQUERYPARAM solution, but our application has over 5000 files, each with one or more Queries and Stored Procedure calls. Implementing such a solution in such an extensive amount of files was impossible in a timely fashion, so I looked for another solution and came across a ColdFusion written function (isSqlInjection) that showed some promise but some shortcomings as well.

I wanted something that we could deploy fast and that would immunize the entire application in one single swoop.

As far as I understand, SQL injections can come from either FORM fields or from URL passed variables. Therefore we developed a function that was placed in our application.cfm and therefore used by all our CFM files. The function used a custom developed Regular Expression to check all URL and FORM fields for possible SQL Injections.

We were able to develop this in one day and implement it immediately. That same night we were able to catch and prevent 2 more SQL Injection attempts.
We have since improved the script and it now does the following:

• Checks all FORM and URL input for SQL injection code

• Interfaces (CFHTTP) with ARIN WHOIS Database Search ( to get ISP information for the offender’s IP.

• Automatically sends an abuse report to the ISP concerning the attack.

• Displays a message informing the hacker that the attack was logged, that his/her ISP was contacted and that he/she is breaking the law

• Sends us an email with the SQL Injection string, IP address and other information.

• Stores the hacker’s IP address in an APPLICATION array (Black List).

o Each time a page in our application is requested, the IP address (CGI.REMOTE_ADDR) is compared with those in the Black List and if it is present, page execution is halted right at the application.cfm level returning a blank page to the browser

o Black List entries that are older than one hour are cleared by a scheduled task on an hourly basis.

We are making this code available to other CF developers for free. Please request a copy by email. [email protected].

If after receiving it you have suggestions or improvements, please send them my way as well.

Angela 04/24/08 06:09:38 PM EDT

Isn't WHERE id = #Val( just as effective as using cfparam or cfqueryparam?

Will 06/17/06 02:53:03 PM EDT

Hi, I really enjoyed your article about injection attachs, but you forgot one small detial. Even if you use cfparam, it appears that you are still vuneralbe to injection attachs via forms. someone could fill a form filed with some thing like this

"# #drop table"

the first and last quotes seperate your statement from and move it ouside of the forms "quoes" and thene the the next two #'s creat and execute a new statement.

CFDJ News Desk 12/21/05 07:29:48 PM EST

Ben Forta's ColdFusion Blog: SQL Injection Attacks, Easy To Prevent, But Apparently Still Ignored. I was just on a web site (no, not a ColdFusion powered site, and no I will not name names) browsing for specific content. The URLs used typical name=value query string conventions, and so I changed the value to jump to the page I wanted. And I made a typo and added a character to the numeric value. The result? An invalid SQL error message.

@ThingsExpo Stories
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data shows "less than 10 percent of IoT developers are making enough to support a reasonably sized team....
Just over a week ago I received a long and loud sustained applause for a presentation I delivered at this year’s Cloud Expo in Santa Clara. I was extremely pleased with the turnout and had some very good conversations with many of the attendees. Over the next few days I had many more meaningful conversations and was not only happy with the results but also learned a few new things. Here is everything I learned in those three days distilled into three short points.
DevOps is about increasing efficiency, but nothing is more inefficient than building the same application twice. However, this is a routine occurrence with enterprise applications that need both a rich desktop web interface and strong mobile support. With recent technological advances from Isomorphic Software and others, rich desktop and tuned mobile experiences can now be created with a single codebase – without compromising functionality, performance or usability. In his session at DevOps Summit, Charles Kendrick, CTO and Chief Architect at Isomorphic Software, demonstrated examples of com...
As organizations realize the scope of the Internet of Things, gaining key insights from Big Data, through the use of advanced analytics, becomes crucial. However, IoT also creates the need for petabyte scale storage of data from millions of devices. A new type of Storage is required which seamlessly integrates robust data analytics with massive scale. These storage systems will act as “smart systems” provide in-place analytics that speed discovery and enable businesses to quickly derive meaningful and actionable insights. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Paul Turner, Chief Marketing Officer at...
In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
In his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Bruce Swann, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Adobe Campaign, explored the key ingredients of cross-channel marketing in a digital world. Learn how the Adobe Marketing Cloud can help marketers embrace opportunities for personalized, relevant and real-time customer engagement across offline (direct mail, point of sale, call center) and digital (email, website, SMS, mobile apps, social networks, connected objects).
The Internet of Everything is re-shaping technology trends–moving away from “request/response” architecture to an “always-on” Streaming Web where data is in constant motion and secure, reliable communication is an absolute necessity. As more and more THINGS go online, the challenges that developers will need to address will only increase exponentially. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Todd Greene, Founder & CEO of PubNub, exploreed the current state of IoT connectivity and review key trends and technology requirements that will drive the Internet of Things from hype to reality.
Two weeks ago (November 3-5), I attended the Cloud Expo Silicon Valley as a speaker, where I presented on the security and privacy due diligence requirements for cloud solutions. Cloud security is a topical issue for every CIO, CISO, and technology buyer. Decision-makers are always looking for insights on how to mitigate the security risks of implementing and using cloud solutions. Based on the presentation topics covered at the conference, as well as the general discussions heard between sessions, I wanted to share some of my observations on emerging trends. As cyber security serves as a fou...
We all know that data growth is exploding and storage budgets are shrinking. Instead of showing you charts on about how much data there is, in his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Scott Cleland, Senior Director of Product Marketing at HGST, showed how to capture all of your data in one place. After you have your data under control, you can then analyze it in one place, saving time and resources.
With all the incredible momentum behind the Internet of Things (IoT) industry, it is easy to forget that not a single CEO wakes up and wonders if “my IoT is broken.” What they wonder is if they are making the right decisions to do all they can to increase revenue, decrease costs, and improve customer experience – effectively the same challenges they have always had in growing their business. The exciting thing about the IoT industry is now these decisions can be better, faster, and smarter. Now all corporate assets – people, objects, and spaces – can share information about themselves and thei...
The cloud. Like a comic book superhero, there seems to be no problem it can’t fix or cost it can’t slash. Yet making the transition is not always easy and production environments are still largely on premise. Taking some practical and sensible steps to reduce risk can also help provide a basis for a successful cloud transition. A plethora of surveys from the likes of IDG and Gartner show that more than 70 percent of enterprises have deployed at least one or more cloud application or workload. Yet a closer inspection at the data reveals less than half of these cloud projects involve production...
Continuous processes around the development and deployment of applications are both impacted by -- and a benefit to -- the Internet of Things trend. To help better understand the relationship between DevOps and a plethora of new end-devices and data please welcome Gary Gruver, consultant, author and a former IT executive who has led many large-scale IT transformation projects, and John Jeremiah, Technology Evangelist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), on Twitter at @j_jeremiah. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Discussions of cloud computing have evolved in recent years from a focus on specific types of cloud, to a world of hybrid cloud, and to a world dominated by the APIs that make today's multi-cloud environments and hybrid clouds possible. In this Power Panel at 17th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the importance of customers being able to use the specific technologies they need, through environments and ecosystems that expose their APIs to make true change and transformation possible.
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
Microservices are a very exciting architectural approach that many organizations are looking to as a way to accelerate innovation. Microservices promise to allow teams to move away from monolithic "ball of mud" systems, but the reality is that, in the vast majority of organizations, different projects and technologies will continue to be developed at different speeds. How to handle the dependencies between these disparate systems with different iteration cycles? Consider the "canoncial problem" in this scenario: microservice A (releases daily) depends on a couple of additions to backend B (re...
The Internet of Things is clearly many things: data collection and analytics, wearables, Smart Grids and Smart Cities, the Industrial Internet, and more. Cool platforms like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Intel's Galileo and Edison, and a diverse world of sensors are making the IoT a great toy box for developers in all these areas. In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists discussed what things are the most important, which will have the most profound effect on the world, and what should we expect to see over the next couple of years.
Container technology is shaping the future of DevOps and it’s also changing the way organizations think about application development. With the rise of mobile applications in the enterprise, businesses are abandoning year-long development cycles and embracing technologies that enable rapid development and continuous deployment of apps. In his session at DevOps Summit, Kurt Collins, Developer Evangelist at, examined how Docker has evolved into a highly effective tool for application delivery by allowing increasingly popular Mobile Backend-as-a-Service (mBaaS) platforms to quickly crea...
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Day 2 Keynote at 17th Cloud Expo, Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, wil...
PubNub has announced the release of BLOCKS, a set of customizable microservices that give developers a simple way to add code and deploy features for realtime apps.PubNub BLOCKS executes business logic directly on the data streaming through PubNub’s network without splitting it off to an intermediary server controlled by the customer. This revolutionary approach streamlines app development, reduces endpoint-to-endpoint latency, and allows apps to better leverage the enormous scalability of PubNub’s Data Stream Network.
Apps and devices shouldn't stop working when there's limited or no network connectivity. Learn how to bring data stored in a cloud database to the edge of the network (and back again) whenever an Internet connection is available. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Ben Perlmutter, a Sales Engineer with IBM Cloudant, demonstrated techniques for replicating cloud databases with devices in order to build offline-first mobile or Internet of Things (IoT) apps that can provide a better, faster user experience, both offline and online. The focus of this talk was on IBM Cloudant, Apache CouchDB, and ...