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What is an SQL Injection Attack? How To Prevent SQL Injection Vulnerabilities

Teo Selenius Hacker Noon profile picture

@appsecmonkeyTeo Selenius

If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes watching YouTube videos about it

SQL injection vulnerabilities arise when you construct database queries unsafely, and untrusted data gets interpreted as a part of the SQL query structure.

How to prevent SQL injection vulnerabilities?

The best way to prevent SQL injection vulnerabilities is to use a framework that allows you to construct and parameterize queries safely. An ORM (Object Relational Mapper) is a good option. For additional security layers, validate all input and use a WAF (Web Application Firewall) product.

A simple example

Let's say we have a Java app that allows users to retrieve their documents by ID. We might do something like this:

String query = "SELECT * FROM documents WHERE ownerId=" + authContext.getUserId() + " AND documentName = '" + request.getParameter("docName") + "'";

So if the user ID is 25 and the URL is something like https://www.example.com/documents/?docName=ABC123, then the query would be:

SELECT * FROM documents WHERE ownerId=25 AND documentName='ABC123';

So far, so good. But what if the URL is https://www.example.com/documents/?docName=ABC123'OR'1'='1?

Now we get the following query which returns all documents for all users (because 1=1 is always true):

SELECT * FROM documents WHERE ownerId=25 AND documentName='ABC123' OR '1'='1';

Oops. So how to avoid this?

Object Relational Mappers

Using Java as an example, using an ORM such as hibernate that implements the JPA (Java Persistence API) could look like this.

First, define a model.

public class Document {
  private Long id;
  private String documentName;
  private Integer ownerId;

Then, define a repository class.

public interface DocumentRepository extends JpaRepository<Document, Long> {
  List<Document> findByDocumentNameAndOwnerId(String documentName, Integer ownerId);

Finally, you can use the repository.

Now you can fetch the documents like so:

List<Document> docs = documentRepository.findByDocumentNameAndOwnerId(request.getParameter("docName"), authContext.getUserId());

The ORM will take care of handling all parameters safely. Now, suppose you want more control over your queries. In that case, many ORMs provide query builders that you can use, such as Hibernate Criteria API.

If you use Python, Django has a great ORM; if you don't use Django, sqlalchemy is an excellent option.

PHP has Doctrine. Just google for an ORM for your technology of choice.


ORM frameworks are not a silver bullet in two senses.

The first is that they still have functionality for supporting raw SQL queries/query parts. Just don't use those features, and you're golden.

The second is that ORM frameworks have vulnerabilities from time to time, just like any other software package. So follow other good practices: validate all input, use a WAF and keep your packages up to date, and you should be fine.

Prepared statements

Prepared statements are more of a legacy option and should be avoided because compared to ORM it has a significantly higher risk of human error. However, it still beats plain string concatenation. This approach could look like this:

String query = "SELECT * FROM documents WHERE ownerId=? AND documentName = ?";
PreparedStatement ps = conn.prepareStatement(query);
ps.setString(1, authContext.getUserId());
ps.setString(2, request.getParameter("docName"));
ResultSet rs = ps.executeQuery();

In theory, this is safe. However, in my experience, as the codebase grows larger, mistakes start to creep in. You only need one slip to completely vulnerable. Edge cases such as arrays (documentId IN ("foo", "bar")) are where the blunders often happen.

So if you decide to go with this method, be very careful with it as you scale.

Web Application Firewalls

WAF products also are not a silver bullet, and should not be considered a security control per se. But they are an awesome additional security layer and usually quite effective against SQL injection attacks.

An excellent open-source solution is to deploy Apache with ModSecurity CRS in front of your web application.

Database Firewalls

Depending on your database product and budget, you might want to consider giving database firewalls a try. I haven't tried one personally, but such things do exist.


SQL injection is at its heart a simple injection vulnerability. And like all injection vulnerabilities, you can prevent it by using a proper library/framework to construct the protocol, in this case, SQL.

ORM is safer than prepared statements. And if you need low-level control of the queries, use a lower level ORM often referred to as a query builder. A WAF product can add a security layer, but you should never rely on it for your security.

Previously published at https://www.appsecmonkey.com/blog/sql-injection-attack-and-prevention/


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