Welcome!

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

Related Topics: ColdFusion, Security

ColdFusion: Article

ColdFusion Security Best Practices

Knowing the security risks are there is half the battle

The Internet has become a scary and hostile place; can your Web applications survive?

Although a lot of media attention has recently been paid to information security, surprisingly little has been published regarding ColdFusion security. Does this then mean that ColdFusion applications are immune to security risks? The answer, unfortunately, is no. Attacks may actually be easier to execute and much more prevalent than programmers would like to believe. Knowing the security risks are there is half the battle.

This article is not meant to be a silver bullet or a complete reference, as that could easily fill many volumes. I hope instead to give a thorough overview of ColdFusion security coding practices - thorough enough that you will know what types of things to take into consideration as you write your applications. Making your applications secure is probably a lot easier than you think.

I will cover some of the more common security problems, such as cross-site scripting, SQL injection, and man-in-the-middle attacks, along with some general ColdFusion security considerations. I will also touch on buffer overflow attacks and authentication and login security.

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
Perhaps the easiest type of attack to enact (and the easiest to prevent) against a Web application is that of a cross-site scripting (XSS) attack. Saving a form to the local machine the attacker is working from is the first step in this sort of attack. Once the file is there, the attacker then has the ability to change form field values that would not normally be accessible to a user simply filling out a form, such as radio buttons, select boxes, and hidden form fields, to name a few. The first thing an attacker would have to do is to change the post action of the form to include the full URL of your post page.

Preventing this kind of attack is as easy as checking for a referrer - or even just making sure that the post action is coming from your site. One way to accomplish this is to include code such as the following at the top of your posting pages:


 <!--- XSS Protection --->
 <cfif NOT len(cgi.http_referer) 
    OR NOT findnocase(cgi.http_host,cgi.http_referer)>
       <h3>Post action aborted!</h3>
       <br />
       <p>Post from foreign host detected</p>
       <cfabort>
 </cfif>
This code checks first to be sure that there is a referrer with the "NOT len(cgi.http_referer)". The reasoning behind this is that if the first page they are going to is the posting page, then something is obviously wrong. Also, this is a very real indicator that yes, this is an XSS attack. There can, however, be some false positives with this code because of older browser usage, but this is the fault of the browser and not the code. So at this point we know there is a referrer but not whether it is coming from our server, which is why we include the second part of the cfif statement "NOT findnocase(cgi.http_host,cgi.http_referer)". This section of the statement checks to be sure that this is indeed a page on your site going to post on your site. With this we know that it is most likely a legitimate transaction and will allow the user to post the form.

Note: Be aware of the "www." in your domain when using this code. You may want to alter the code to accommodate all of the possible domains for your site. It is also important to note that there is not a 100% guarantee on the referrer, as this information is sent from the client's browser and is therefore "spoofable."

SQL Injection Attacks
An injection attack is the act of embedding partial SQL queries inside of input that is sent to a WHERE clause in one of your existing queries. A classic (and all too common) example of vulnerable code would look like this:


 <!--- SQL INJECTION VULNERABLE CODE -‡
 <cfquery datasource="#myDNS#" name="qryLogin">
 SELECT * FROM Users WHERE username= '#form.username#' AND
  password='#hash(form.password)#'
 </cfquery>
 <cfif qryLogin.recordCount gt 0>
 	<cfset session.authenticated = 1>
 <cfelse>
 	Invalid login!
 </cfif>
 
To exploit this an attacker would simply have to enter " ' or 1=1--" into the username field. That would produce an end query that looks like this:


 SELECT * FROM Users WHERE username='' or 1=1-- AND password=''
 
As you can see, 1=1 will always be true. The "--" in MS SQL Server will comment out the rest of the query. The resulting record count will be however many records are in the Users table, obviously greater then 0. The user would be logged on and happily browsing your application.

There are a number of things developers can do to reduce the risk of SQL injection attacks in their applications. One technique I like to use is to write a UDF (user-defined function) that will escape out all quotes and then use it as a wrapper for all values passed to the query. Following is a simple example of such a UDF:


 /**
  * UDF that replaces strings commonly used in SQL Injections
  * and replaces them with Unicode equivalents.
  * 
  * Written for September 2004 issue of CFDJ magazine
  * Version 1 by Bryan Murphy, [email protected]
  * Written in cfscript
  * @param string 	 Text to parse. (Required)
  * @return Returns a string.
  * @author Bryan Murphy ([email protected])
  * @version 1, July 22 2004
  */
 function sqlSafe(string) {
   var sqlList = "-- ,'";
   var replacementList =
 "#chr(38)##chr(35)##chr(52)##chr(53)##chr(59)##chr(38)##chr(35)##chr(52)
 ##chr(53) ##chr(59)# , #chr(38)##chr(35)##chr(51)##chr(57)##chr(59)#";
 
   return trim(replaceList( string , sqlList , replacementList ));
 }
 
The simplest way to protect your applications from a SQL injection attack would be to store all of your SQL code in stored procedures. Because a stored procedure does not dynamically create a SQL query, it is not susceptible.

ColdFusion also has the CFQUERYPARAM tag. Using this tag properly will also ensure the safe execution of your SQL queries. Be sure to provide the CFSQLType value to ensure that the data being passed is of the expected type for your database.

Man-in-the-Middle Attack (Session Hijacking)
Using this type of attack, the attacker sometimes sniffs the packets of a legitimate user. The attacker will then alter the packets and send them back at the application on the user's behalf.

The best way to eliminate this risk is by "tying" multiple variables from different scopes together. Require a session, database, and cookie variable to be concatenated and match a session-specific variable. An encrypted or hashed UUID works best for this purpose.

Parameter Manipulation
Another very common type of attack used against a Web application is parameter manipulation. Arguably just about any type of attack could be grouped into this category, but for the purpose of this article I will use this term to refer to attacks by users providing unexpected input into fields they are given access to.

These attacks could range from someone entering ".5" for the quantity of a $100 product and being charged only $50 for it, to someone entering a letter into a field that is expecting a number to see if they can receive an error message.

This type of attack simply comes down to not properly checking user-supplied attributes. If you are expecting a whole number, use the ceiling() function to round entries up to the nearest whole number; if you are expecting any sort of numeric value, use the val() function, which automatically strips out nonnumeric characters.

Your post actions should do a host of error handling and input validation before anything is saved to a database or any access is granted. Your error handling should be done server side. Do not rely on JavaScript or other client-side validation, as these are all easily manipulated by the end user. Be aware that CFFORM fields generate JavaScript validation, making it useless against this sort of attack.

Buffer Overflows
Buffer overflows are by far the most prominently publicized vulnerabilities. Although these are extremely prevalent in normal software, they are not a direct concern for ColdFusion developers, as the ColdFusion Server does not allocate memory at runtime or have pointers. This does not mean that the ColdFusion Server itself is not susceptible to such attacks. The recommended course of action is to subscribe to the ColdFusion security mail list (www.macromedia.com/devnet/security/security_zone/ notification_service.html) and patch appropriately as patches are released.

General ColdFusion-Specific Security Considerations
There are some general things that every ColdFusion programmer should take into consideration. CFFILE, CFFTP, and CFPOP present a unique set of insecurities. Each of these tags allows an end user to write a file to your server. It is important to filter MIME types to exactly what you are expecting. Better yet, allow files to be saved only outside of Web-accessible directories.

In the event of an error, never give away any details (DSNs, table names, directory paths, and so forth) in the error message. Attackers will intentionally throw things at your application in an attempt to generate error messages that will aid them in their attacks.

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) provides a layer of encryption between the client and the server. If your application stores or transfers any data of a sensitive nature (social security numbers, credit card numbers, etc.) you will need to use SSL. If it's a public site, your users will demand it. Even novice Internet users know to look for the little padlock in the corner of their Web browser; if they don't see it, they take their business to another company.

Authentication/Login Mechanisms
The last security issue I will touch on covers authentication systems and login systems. These systems may seem simple to the average developer, but creating a secure login requires a substantial amount of code. I would recommend putting a lot of time and effort into your login/authentication mechanism and placing it in a CFC or custom tag. Then you can reuse it across all of your applications, and if a problem is found it requires that you change code in only one place for all applications. It's a good idea to use and reuse trusted components. However, if you would prefer an off-the-shelf product, you may try MetaGuard (http://guardianlogic.com/?dna=products&rna=metaguard ). We have written all of the laborious stuff for you.

Always hash/encrypt passwords and other sensitive data. If an attacker is somehow able to get direct access to your database, you don't want them to see all of your passwords in plain text.

Require complex passwords. Time and time again, end users have shown that they are completely content using the name of their pet, child, or even their username as a password. This is gold to an attacker, as it requires only a brief amount of research or one or two guesses to break it. I recommend using some sort of UDF to verify the complexity when a user goes to change or create a password. My favorite is passwordCheck(), which can be downloaded from www.cflib.org/udf.cfm?id=1072

Make passwords expire. This rule is sometimes disregarded, but it is still very important. If an attacker managed to gain a copy of your users table six months ago, he or she will still be able to gain access with those passwords today if you don't require expiration.

Log everything (or at least all that is useful). If someone is hammering an account with 100 invalid login attempts per minute and all you know is that your site is running slow, then your application has a way to go before it can be considered secure. Use CFLOG, write the events to a table in a database, or use CFFILE to write a plain text log file. Any or even combinations of these methods will work. Remember, these logs are useful only if someone actually checks them.

Set a maximum invalid login threshold lockout. In other words, if a user has X invalid login attempts, he or she will be locked out for Y minutes. Some applications require that an administrator unlock an account after a lockout occurs. In my opinion this is not the best method, as it could be used to create a DOS (denial of service) event. It is common for attackers to gather all of the logins they can for a site and run a brute-force or dictionary attack against each one. This will essentially lock out every user on your system (that they have usernames for). This is a nightmare to deal with.

Allow only one connection per user at a time. If someone attempts to log on as a user who is already logged on from a different IP, it should be logged as a security event. The user is either sharing passwords, or his or her password has been compromised.

Write IP-based auto-blacklisting for repeat offenders. This may even be the route you want to go for the invalid login lockout. This way the account itself remains usable by legitimate users, but the attacker's IP is locked out. Of course this does allow the attacker to make an attempt from another IP or to spoof the IP and try again.

As you can see, many security concerns must be taken into account when writing a Web application. It may seem like a lot of extra effort - until you experience your first XSS attack and the attacker makes off with your product for pennies or uses a SQL injection attack to steal your customer database, credit card numbers included.

Security considerations should be included in everything you do. They should be embedded into your thinking and not added as an afterthought.

Resources

  • OWASP: www.owasp.org
  • Search Security: http://searchsecurity.techtarget.com
  • Macromedia CF security: www.macromedia.com/devnet/mx/coldfusion/security.html
  • CF server security announcement list: www.macromedia.com/devnet/security/security_zone/ notification_service.html
  • WASC: http://webappsec.org
  • More Stories By Bryan Murphy

    Bryan Murphy is the owner of GuardianLogic, Inc. (www.guardianlogic.com), an information security firm that provides application and network vulnerability assessments and hardening. He is also one of the authors of Metazoa (www.metazoa.ca), a security-enhanced content management system; Membrane, an application-level firewall; and MetaGuard, a CFC that provides role-based login, authentication, and access control. Bryan has been an ethical hacker since the old-school BBS days. Visit his blog at www.downgrade.org.

    Comments (3) 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
    Ron K 06/22/07 11:10:54 PM EDT

    Great article. Gave me some good pointers on security issues.

    Michael Johnson 01/18/06 02:35:22 AM EST

    This is a really poor atricle.. your suggesting preventing cross site scripting by checking the referer, wow! Most input fields you can directly inject the code, if that gets stored into a database and re-displayed back to the user I can get whatever information I want.. Also with a combination of http response splitting you can overwrite the header information easily. This article should really be removed or updated correctly.

    somus 04/02/05 12:51:39 PM EST

    I wonder if your paranoia stems from having your hand in the security field? does the fact that you are making money from spreading fear and suspicion keep you up at night?

    I hope you choke on your fat wallet

    @ThingsExpo Stories
    Software AG helps organizations transform into Digital Enterprises, so they can differentiate from competitors and better engage customers, partners and employees. Using the Software AG Suite, companies can close the gap between business and IT to create digital systems of differentiation that drive front-line agility. We offer four on-ramps to the Digital Enterprise: alignment through collaborative process analysis; transformation through portfolio management; agility through process automation and integration; and visibility through intelligent business operations and big data.
    There will be 50 billion Internet connected devices by 2020. Today, every manufacturer has a propriety protocol and an app. How do we securely integrate these "things" into our lives and businesses in a way that we can easily control and manage? Even better, how do we integrate these "things" so that they control and manage each other so our lives become more convenient or our businesses become more profitable and/or safe? We have heard that the best interface is no interface. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Co-Founder & CTO at Octoblu, Inc., will discuss how these devices generate enough data to learn our behaviors and simplify/improve our lives. What if we could connect everything to everything? I'm not only talking about connecting things to things but also systems, cloud services, and people. Add in a little machine learning and artificial intelligence and now we have something interesting...
    Last week, while in San Francisco, I used the Uber app and service four times. All four experiences were great, although one of the drivers stopped for 30 seconds and then left as I was walking up to the car. He must have realized I was a blogger. None the less, the next car was just a minute away and I suffered no pain. In this article, my colleague, Ved Sen, Global Head, Advisory Services Social, Mobile and Sensors at Cognizant shares his experiences and insights.
    We are reaching the end of the beginning with WebRTC and real systems using this technology have begun to appear. One challenge that faces every WebRTC deployment (in some form or another) is identity management. For example, if you have an existing service – possibly built on a variety of different PaaS/SaaS offerings – and you want to add real-time communications you are faced with a challenge relating to user management, authentication, authorization, and validation. Service providers will want to use their existing identities, but these will have credentials already that are (hopefully) irreversibly encoded. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, will look at how this identity problem can be solved and discuss ways to use existing web identities for real-time communication.
    Can call centers hang up the phones for good? Intuitive Solutions did. WebRTC enabled this contact center provider to eliminate antiquated telephony and desktop phone infrastructure with a pure web-based solution, allowing them to expand beyond brick-and-mortar confines to a home-based agent model. It also ensured scalability and better service for customers, including MUY! Companies, one of the country's largest franchise restaurant companies with 232 Pizza Hut locations. This is one example of WebRTC adoption today, but the potential is limitless when powered by IoT. Attendees will learn real-world benefits of WebRTC and explore future possibilities, as WebRTC and IoT intersect to improve customer service.
    From telemedicine to smart cars, digital homes and industrial monitoring, the explosive growth of IoT has created exciting new business opportunities for real time calls and messaging. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Ivelin Ivanov, CEO and Co-Founder of Telestax, will share some of the new revenue sources that IoT created for Restcomm – the open source telephony platform from Telestax. Ivelin Ivanov is a technology entrepreneur who founded Mobicents, an Open Source VoIP Platform, to help create, deploy, and manage applications integrating voice, video and data. He is the co-founder of TeleStax, an Open Source Cloud Communications company that helps the shift from legacy IN/SS7 telco networks to IP-based cloud comms. An early investor in multiple start-ups, he still finds time to code for his companies and contribute to open source projects.
    The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to create new business models as significant as those that were inspired by the Internet and the smartphone 20 and 10 years ago. What business, social and practical implications will this phenomenon bring? That's the subject of "Monetizing the Internet of Things: Perspectives from the Front Lines," an e-book released today and available free of charge from Aria Systems, the leading innovator in recurring revenue management.
    The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges.
    There’s Big Data, then there’s really Big Data from the Internet of Things. IoT is evolving to include many data possibilities like new types of event, log and network data. The volumes are enormous, generating tens of billions of logs per day, which raise data challenges. Early IoT deployments are relying heavily on both the cloud and managed service providers to navigate these challenges. In her session at 6th Big Data Expo®, Hannah Smalltree, Director at Treasure Data, to discuss how IoT, Big Data and deployments are processing massive data volumes from wearables, utilities and other machines.
    All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices – computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors – connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo in Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be!
    P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Erik Lagerway, Co-founder of Hookflash, will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone and voice services to the modern P2P RTC era of OTT cloud assisted services.
    While great strides have been made relative to the video aspects of remote collaboration, audio technology has basically stagnated. Typically all audio is mixed to a single monaural stream and emanates from a single point, such as a speakerphone or a speaker associated with a video monitor. This leads to confusion and lack of understanding among participants especially regarding who is actually speaking. Spatial teleconferencing introduces the concept of acoustic spatial separation between conference participants in three dimensional space. This has been shown to significantly improve comprehension and conference efficiency.
    The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, will discuss single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example to explain some of these concepts including when to use different storage models.
    SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in software-defined storage (SDS) purpose-built for Windows Servers and Hyper-V, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Gridstore™ is the leader in software-defined storage purpose built for virtualization that is designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Using its patented Server-Side Virtual Controller™ Technology (SVCT) to eliminate the I/O blender effect and accelerate applications Gridstore delivers vmOptimized™ Storage that self-optimizes to each application or VM across both virtual and physical environments. Leveraging a grid architecture, Gridstore delivers the first end-to-end storage QoS to ensure the most important App or VM performance is never compromised. The storage grid, that uses Gridstore’s performance optimized nodes or capacity optimized nodes, starts with as few a...
    The Transparent Cloud-computing Consortium (abbreviation: T-Cloud Consortium) will conduct research activities into changes in the computing model as a result of collaboration between "device" and "cloud" and the creation of new value and markets through organic data processing High speed and high quality networks, and dramatic improvements in computer processing capabilities, have greatly changed the nature of applications and made the storing and processing of data on the network commonplace. These technological reforms have not only changed computers and smartphones, but are also changing the data processing model for all information devices. In particular, in the area known as M2M (Machine-To-Machine), there are great expectations that information with a new type of value can be produced using a variety of devices and sensors saving/sharing data via the network and through large-scale cloud-type data processing. This consortium believes that attaching a huge number of devic...
    Innodisk is a service-driven provider of industrial embedded flash and DRAM storage products and technologies, with a focus on the enterprise, industrial, aerospace, and defense industries. Innodisk is dedicated to serving their customers and business partners. Quality is vitally important when it comes to industrial embedded flash and DRAM storage products. That’s why Innodisk manufactures all of their products in their own purpose-built memory production facility. In fact, they designed and built their production center to maximize manufacturing efficiency and guarantee the highest quality of our products.
    Can call centers hang up the phones for good? Intuitive Solutions did. WebRTC enabled this contact center provider to eliminate antiquated telephony and desktop phone infrastructure with a pure web-based solution, allowing them to expand beyond brick-and-mortar confines to a home-based agent model. Download Slide Deck: ▸ Here
    All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. Over the summer Gartner released its much anticipated annual Hype Cycle report and the big news is that Internet of Things has now replaced Big Data as the most hyped technology. Indeed, we're hearing more and more about this fascinating new technological paradigm. Every other IT news item seems to be about IoT and its implications on the future of digital business.
    BSQUARE is a global leader of embedded software solutions. We enable smart connected systems at the device level and beyond that millions use every day and provide actionable data solutions for the growing Internet of Things (IoT) market. We empower our world-class customers with our products, services and solutions to achieve innovation and success. For more information, visit www.bsquare.com.
    With the iCloud scandal seemingly in its past, Apple announced new iPhones, updates to iPad and MacBook as well as news on OSX Yosemite. Although consumers will have to wait to get their hands on some of that new stuff, what they can get is the latest release of iOS 8 that Apple made available for most in-market iPhones and iPads. Originally announced at WWDC (Apple’s annual developers conference) in June, iOS 8 seems to spearhead Apple’s newfound focus upon greater integration of their products into everyday tasks, cross-platform mobility and self-monitoring. Before you update your device, here is a look at some of the new features and things you may want to consider from a mobile security perspective.