Security Hands-On-Training – Part 4

[Following part 3 where the  ASP.NET web site code was modified, part 4 will show different methods, techniques, and ways of manipulating the user input in order to control the logic of the application making the web application exploitable. ~Luis]

During the previous chapter the defenses that were in place in the test application were removed. To achieve this a  trial and error approach was used. While looking for SQL injection vulnerabilities, different methods, techniques, and ways of manipulating the user input were tried in order to see how the system reacted. This method allows us to learn and practice which defenses would need to be removed to allow a successful exploit.

The HelpDesk.aspx page is shown in the next figure. It simulates a helpdesk ticketing system where the user is allowed to input data into two fields. The “Station Number” and the “Problem Description”.


When the user clicks on the “Submit Request” button, the web form takes the value and passes it to a SQL statement. This will happen without validation controls because they were removed in the previous post. Behind the scenes this page contains an INSERT SQL statement that will receive the user input and insert it into the database. The code block that allows this to happen is shown below.


The database called “Dorknozzle” contains a table called “HelpDesk”. This is shown in the below figure. In the database there are several columns that are used to store the user input. During the trial and error method to discover a SQL injection point  it was found that input that is stored in the database as an integer could not be manipulated.  This applies to the “Station Number” field. However, the “Description” field uses the nvarchar type and allows up to 50 characters to be inserted.


With this in mind and with the defenses down the reader can start adding characters in the user input fields that would change the initial query logic and see how the system reacts. The first character to try is the single quote. When clicking the submit button the web application returns a SQL exception message. This happens because the error messages were enabled.


This was exactly the objective. This SQL error message discloses that the statement submitted had an unmatched number of single quote characters. To further exploit it the reader would need a way to construct a statement in the input field that allowed to terminate the string and append the malicious SQL statement (OWASP,4). At this stage the debug functionality of Visual Studio Express was used. By introducing a break point in the code where the SQL statement is, the application execution could be controlled. Then the Web application was started in debug mode. In the HelpDesk page the character “A” and a single quote was inserted in the “Problem Description” field. When submitting the request the break point kicked in and the step into functionality was used to dig into what was happening. This allows us to verify exactly how the SQL statement was being constructed and executed by the database. The next figure shows these steps.


The SQL statement that was being sent to the database was not well formed due to the crafted input which caused an odd number of single quote characters resulting in a SQL error. The below figure shows what the SQL statement looks like.


Now it is just a manner of time to find the correct input that will create a well formed SQL statement and introduce the malicious SQL code. During this iterative process the reader can find that he could close the SQL statement by injecting the right number of values that the database is expecting. Then another statement could be inserted and this would be the injection point and the “–“ sequence (two dashes) can be used to ignore the rest of the statement. This SQL injection point is inside an INSERT statement. Because of this you couldn’t see the output of the injected query or any difference in the in the responses of the web application which increases the difficulty of the technique. Using a technique called Blind SQL injection, which was first introduced by Chris Anley in 2002, the reader  might use inference techniques to get the results (Clarke, 2012). For example, with this technique, SQL statements that analyze the response time can be used. One method is using the sleep function like WAITFOR DELAY ‘time’. Using this technique the reader could make the database wait and reveal if a statement was true or false. In the next figure is shown how the SQL statement would look like after having the evil payload inserted. This will result in the database to wait 5 seconds before producing the results.


In addition to the previous example the following SQL statements could be used in the SQL injection point to understand how the database would react:

IF (1=1) WAIT FOR DELAY ‘0:0:5’ —
IF (1>2) WAIT FOR DELAY ‘0:0:5’ —

Then more advanced queries could be used to determine if the current user is part of the sysadmin role:


This seems a rather tedious and slow process but this will be automated using well known SQL injection tools in the upcoming articles. These tools dramatically increase the efficiency of an attacker but also extend the attack population. One disadvantage of these powerful tools is that any inexperienced person can mount complex SQL injection attacks regardless the technique or the database technology (Clarke, 2012).

During this exercise the reader is able to learn about SQL, its inner working queries and how SQL statements are constructed. It should be clear now why is important to disable any error messages and  why it is important to sanitize all input. When the reader has a good understanding of the tools and techniques and can control the logic of the application the reader could also use SQL injection with serious consequences. Tools like SQLmap and SQLninja can be used to automate these techniques.

Even though the focus was on SQL injection the environment is ready for additional tests by reducing our defenses further. In the context of this web application the reader could introduce other vulnerabilities such as Cross-Site scripting (XSS), Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) or introduce a broken authentication mechanism. Learning how to do this and understanding the mechanisms behind the scenes is a rewarding exercising. Likewise, learning the attack vectors, use the tools, taking the time to experiment with them and understand how they work will make one better equipped and skilled.


OWASP. (4, September 13). Testing for sql injection (owasp-dv-005). Retrieved from
Clarke, J. (2012). Sql injection attacks and defense, 2nd edition. Syngress.

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