Validation: Client vs. Server

Years ago, I remember being on a technical interview phone call for a senior developer position. What stood out was when the interviewer asked me about performing input validation. The question was in regards to if validation should be on the client or the server. My answer: The server.

What took me by surprise was when the response was that my answer was incorrect. In fact, I was told that Microsoft recommends performing validation on the client. This was inaccurate information, but I let it go and continued with the interview.
Recently, I have been having more conversations around input validation. In particular, the question of client or server side. While it is easy to state that validation should always be performed on the server, lets dig into this a little more to better understand your situation.

From a pure security perspective, input validation must be performed on the server. There is one simple reason for this: Any protections built using client-side techniques can be bypassed by using a simple web proxy. Using JavaScript to enforce that a field contains an email address can be easily bypassed by intercepting the request and changing it after the JavaScript has executed.

If you look at the threat model of your application, requests from the client to the server cross a trust boundary. Because of this trust boundary we know that the data needs to be validated again. Why? There is no way to know what happened to the data before it was received. We can assume the request was sent from a browser, used by a typical user. However, we don’t know if the data was manipulated after leaving the browser, or even sent from a browser at all.

That, however, is from a strict security standpoint. We must not forget that client-side validation serves a purpose as well. While client-side validation may not be trusted by the server, it tends to be more focused on immediate feedback to the user. Not only does this save a round trip, or many round trips, to the server, it cuts down on the processing the server needs to handle.
If we take an example of purely validating required fields on a form, we can immediately see the benefit of client-side validation. Even a small form, if not complete can create a lot of inefficiency if the user is constantly posting it without all the required fields. The ability to alert to this on the client makes it much quicker and cuts down on the number of invalid requests to the server.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the user can’t fill in all the required fields to pass the client-side validation, intercept the request, and then remove some of those fields. In this case, server-side validation would catch this. The goal, however, of client-side validation is to provide a reactive user interface that is fast.

Understanding how each validation location functions and what the real purpose is helps us identify when to use each. While server-side validation is always required, client-side validation can be a great addition to the application.

Properly Placing XSS Output Encoding

Cross-Site Scripting flaws, as well as other injection flaws, are pretty well understood. We know how they work and how to mitigate them. One of the key factors in mitigation of these flaws is output encoding or escaping. For SQL, we escape by using parameters. For cross-site scripting we use context sensitive output encoding.

In this post, I don’t want to focus on the how of output encoding for cross-site scripting. Rather, I want to focus on when in the pipeline it should be done. Over the years I have had a lot of people ask if it is ok to encode the data before storing it in the database. I recently came across this insufficient solution and thought it was a good time to address it again. I will look at a few different cases that indicate why the solution is insufficient and explain a more sufficient approach.

The Database Is Not Trusted

The database should not be considered a trusted resource. This is a common oversight in many organizations, most likely due to the fact that the database is internal. It lives in a protected portion of your production environment. While that is true, it has many sources that have access to it. Even if it is just your application that uses the database today, there are still administrators and update scripts that most likely access it. We can’t rule out the idea of a rogue administrator, even if it is very slim.

We also may not know if other applications access our database. What if there is a mobile application that has access? We can’t guarantee that every source of data is going to properly encode the data before it gets sent to the database. This leaves us with a gap in coverage and a potential for cross-site scripting.

Input Validation My Not Be Enough

I always recommend to developers to have good input validation. Of course, the term good is different for everyone. At the basic level, your input validation may limit a few characters. At the advanced level it may try to limit different types of attacks. In some cases, it is difficult to use input validation to eliminate all cross-site scripting payloads. Why? Due to the different contexts and the types of data that some forms accept, a payload may still squeak by. Are you protecting against all payloads across all the different contexts? How do you know what context the data will be used in?

In addition to potentially missing a payload, what about when another developer creates a function and forgets to include the input validation? Even more likely, what happens when a new application starts accessing your database and doesn’t perform the same input validation. it puts us back into the same scenario described in the section above regarding the database isn’t trusted.

You Don’t Know the Context

When receiving and storing data, the chances are good I don’t know where the data will be used. What is the context of the data when output? Is it going into a span tag, an attribute or even straight into JavaScript? Will it be used by a reporting engine? The context matters because it determines how we encode the data. Different contexts are concerned with different characters. Can I just throw data into the database with an html encoding context? At this point, I am transforming the data at a time where there is no transformation required. Cross-site scripting doesn’t execute in my SQL column.

A Better Approach

As you can see, the above techniques are useful, however, they appear insufficient for multiple reasons. I recommend performing the output encoding immediately before the data is actually used. By that, I mean to encode right before it is output to the client. This way it is very clear what the context is and the appropriate encoding can be implemented.
Don’t forget to perform input validation on your data, but remember it is typically not meant to stop all attack scenarios. Instead it is there to help reduce them. We must be aware that other applications may access our data and those applications may no follow the same procedures we do. Due to this, making sure we make encoding decisions at the last moment provides the best coverage. Of course, this relies on the developers remembering to perform the output encoding.

Sub Resource Integrity – SRI

Do you rely on content distribution networks or CDNs to provide some of your resources? You may not consider some of your resources in this category, but really it is any resource that is provided outside of your server. For example, maybe you pull in the jQuery JavaScript file from rather than hosting the file on your server.
These CDNs provide a great way to give fast access to these resources. But how do you know you are getting the file you expect?

As an attacker, if I can attack multiple people vs just one, it is a better chance of success. A CDN provides a central location to potentially affect many applications, vs. targeting just one. Would you know if the CDN has modified that file you are expecting?

Welcome Sub Resource Integrity, or SRI. SRI provides the ability to validate the signature of the file against a predetermined hash. It is common for websites that provide files for downloads to provide a hash to validate the file is not corrupt. After downloading the file, you would compute the hash using the same algorithm (typically MD5) and then compare it to the hash listed on the server.

SRI works in a similar way. To implement this, as a developer you create a hash of the expected resource using a specified hashing algorithm. Then, you would add an integrity attribute to your resource, whether it is a script element or stylesheet. When the browser requests the resource, it will compute the hash, compare it to the integrity attribute and if successful, will load the resource. if it is unsuccessful, the file will not be loaded.

How it works

Lets look at how we would implement this for jQuery hosted at google. We will be including the reference from

Initially, we might start by just creating a script tag with that as the source. This will work, but doesn’t provide any integrity check. There are a few different ways we can create the digest. An easy way is to use The site provides a way to enter in the url to the resource and it will create the script tag for you.

Another option is to generate the hash yourself. To do this you will start by downloading the resource to your local system.

Once the file is downloaded, you can generate the hash by executing the following command:

openssl dgst -sha384 -binary Downloads/jquery.min.js | openssl base64 -A

Make sure you change Downloads/jquery.min.js to your downloaded file path. You should see a hash similar to:


Now, we can build our script tag as follows (Don’t forget to add the hashing algorithm to the integrity attribute:

<script src=”” integrity=”sha384-xBuQ/xzmlsLoJpyjoggmTEz8OWUFM0/RC5BsqQBDX2v5cMvDHcMakNTNrHIW2I5f” crossorigin=”anonymous”></script>

Notice that there is a new crossorigin attribute as well. This is set to anonymous to allow CORS to work correctly. The CDN must have CORS set up to allow the integrity check to occur.

If you want to test the integrity check out, add another script tag to the page (after the above tag) that looks like the following:


When the page loads, it should alert with some jQuery information. Now modify the Integrity value (I removed the last character) and reload the page. You should see a message that says “undefined”. This means that the resource was not loaded.

Browser support is still not complete. At this time, only Chrome, Opera, and Firefox support this feature.

Handling Failures

What do you do if the integrity check fails? You don’t want to break your site, right? Using the code snippet we tested with above, we could check to make sure it loaded, and if not, load it from a local resource. This gives us the benefit of using the CDN most of the time and falling back to a local resource only when necessary. The following may be what the updated script looks like:

<script src=”” integrity=”sha384-xBuQ/xzmlsLoJpyjoggmTEz8OWUFM0/RC5BsqQBDX2v5cMvDHcMakNTNrHIW2I5f” crossorigin=”anonymous”></script>
<script> window.jQuery || document.write(‘<script src=”/jquery-.min.js”><\/script>’)</script>

When the integtrity check fails, you can see the local resource being loaded in the image below:


If you are using resources hosted on external networks, give some thought about implementing SRI and how it may benefit you. It is still in its early stages and not supported by all browsers, but it can certainly help reduce some of the risk of malicious files delivered through these networks.

Jardine Software helps companies get more value from their application security programs. Let’s talk about how we can help you.

James Jardine is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Jardine Software Inc. He has over 15 years of combined development and security experience. If you are interested in learning more about Jardine Software, you can reach him at or @jardinesoftware on twitter.

Using the AWS disruption to your advantage

By now you have heard of the amazon issues that plagued many websites a few days ago. I want to talk about one key part of the issue that often gets overlooked. If you read through their message describing their service disruption ( you will notice a section where they discuss some changes to the tools they use to manage their systems.

So let’s take a step back for a moment. Amazon attributed the service disruption to basically a simple mistake when executing a command. Although following an established playbook, something was entered incorrectly, leading to the disruption. I don’t want to get into all the details about the disruption, but rather, lets fast forward to considering the tools that are used.

Whether we are developing applications for external use or tools used to manage our systems, we don’t always think about all the possible threat scenarios. Sure, we think about some of the common threats and put in some simple safeguards, but what about some of those more detailed issues.

In this case, the tools allowed manipulating sub-systems that shouldn’t have been possible. It allowed shutting systems down too quickly, which caused some issues. This is no different than many of the tools that we write. We understand the task and create something to make it happen. But then our systems get more complicated. They pull in other systems which have access to yet other systems. A change to something directly accessible has an effect on a system 3 hops away.

Now, the chances of this edge case from happening are probably pretty slim. The chances that this case was missed during design is pretty good. Especially if you are not regularly reassessing your systems. What may have not been possible 2 years ago when the system was created is now possible today.

Even with Threat Modeling and secure design, things change. If the tool isn’t being updated, then the systems it controls are. We must have the ability to learn from these situations and identify how we can apply them to our own situations. How many tools have you created that can control your systems where a simple wrong click or incorrect parameter can create a huge headache. Do you even understand your systems well enough to know if doing something too fast or too slow can cause a problem. What about the effect of shutting one machine down has on any other machines. Are there warning messages for things that may have adverse effects? Are there safeguards in place of someone doing something out of the norm?

We are all busy and going back through working systems isn’t a high priority. These tools/systems may require an addition of new features, which makes for a perfect time to reassess it. Like everything in security, peripheral vision is very important. When working on one piece, it is always good to peek at other code around it. Take the time to verify that everything is up to date and as expected. Not any changes and determine if any enhancements or redesign is in order. Most of the time, these are edge case scenarios, but they can have a big impact if they occur.

Jardine Software helps companies get more value from their application security programs. Let’s talk about how we can help you.

James Jardine is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Jardine Software Inc. He has over 15 years of combined development and security experience. If you are interested in learning more about Jardine Software, you can reach him at or @jardinesoftware on twitter.

Security Tips for Copy/Paste of Code From the Internet

Developing applications has long involved using code snippets found through textbooks or on the Internet. Rather than re-invent the wheel, it makes sense to identify existing code that helps solve a problem. It may also help speed up the development time.

Years ago, maybe 12, I remember a co-worker that had a SQL Injection vulnerability in his application. The culprit, code copied from someone else. At the time, I explained that once you copy code into your application it is now your responsibility.

Here, 12 years later, I still see this type of occurrence. Using code snippets directly from the web in the application. In many of these cases there may be some form of security weakness. How often do we, as developers, really analyze and understand all the details of the code that we copy?

Here are a few tips when working with external code brought into your application.

Understand what it does

If you were looking for code snippets, you should have a good idea of what the code will do. Better yet, you probably have an understanding of what you think that code will do. How vigorously do you inspect it to make sure that is all it does. Maybe the code performs the specific task you were set out to complete, but what happens if there are other functions you weren’t even looking for. This may not be as much a concern with very small snippets. However, with larger sections of code, it could coverup other functionality. This doesn’t mean that the functionality is intentionally malicious. But undocumented, unintended functionality may open up risk to the application.

Change any passwords or secrets

Depending on the code that you are searching, there may be secrets within it. For example, encryption routines are common for being grabbed off the Internet. To be complete, they contain hard-coded IVs and keys. These should be changed when imported into your projects to something unique. This could also be the case for code that has passwords or other hard-coded values that may provide access to the system.

As I was writing this, I noticed a post about the RadAsyncUpload control regarding the defaults within it. While this is not code copy/pasted from the Internet, it highlights the need to understand the default configurations and that some values should be changed to help provide better protections.

Look for potential vulnerabilities

In addition to the above concerns, the code may have vulnerabilities in it. Imagine a snippet of code used to select data from a SQL database. What if that code passed your tests of accurately pulling the queries, but uses inline SQL and is vulnerable to SQL Injection. The same could happen for code vulnerable to Cross-Site Scripting or not checking proper authorization.

We have to do a better job of performing code reviews on these external snippets, just as we should be doing it on our custom written internal code. Finding snippets of code that perform our needed functionality can be a huge benefit, but we can’t just assume it is production ready. If you are using this type of code, take the time to understand it and review it for potential issues. Don’t stop at just verifying the functionality. Take steps to vet the code just as you would any other code within your application.

Jardine Software helps companies get more value from their application security programs. Let’s talk about how we can help you.

James Jardine is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Jardine Software Inc. He has over 15 years of combined development and security experience. If you are interested in learning more about Jardine Software, you can reach him at or @jardinesoftware on twitter.

Gmail will block JavaScript file attachments

According to a recent announcement, Gmail will start blocking .js file attachments starting February 13, 2017.

Blocking specific attachment types isn’t something that is new to Gmail. They already block attaching file attachments that are .exe, .msc, and .bat types. The recent move to add javascript files is most likely related to the recent malware/ransomware campaigns that have started using JavaScript files instead of Microsoft Office files. There was an article posted back in April discussing this trend.

If you are still looking to send another person a JavaScript file, you can just use other services, like Google Drive, Dropbox, or other similar products. While the change doesn’t block all potential avenues for ransomware to be sent via email, it does help reduce the risk of this particular method.

As a user, we still must be attentive to other attack vectors, such as macros within Microsoft Word files which can be used to infect systems. There may be a resurgence of these methods as the JavaScript files start getting blocked.

This move does beg the question as to why not force all attachments to go through a storage service, rather than directly attached to the email. Would that actually create a larger risk with the abundance of links now being sent within emails? Would it just move the threat from your inbox to the cloud service? It would be interesting to get a bigger picture of this landscape for better understanding.

Jardine Software helps companies get more value from their application security programs. Let’s talk about how we can help you. James Jardine is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Jardine Software Inc. He has over 15 years of combined development and security experience. If you are interested in learning more about Jardine Software, you can reach him at or @jardinesoftware on twitter.

Secure Notification Updates in FireFox and Chrome

There has been a steady increase in the number of applications that have switched to using HTTPS instead of HTTP for communication. Even sites that have no sensitive information or authentication mechanisms. Using HTTPS provides authentication and a secure channel to transmit data between client and server. The authentication verifies that you are communicating with the organization you thought you were. This secure transmission is meant to stop other parties from being able to read or manipulate the user’s traffic. For non-sensitive applications, it is that ability to manipulate the traffic that we are trying to protect against.

Mozilla announced that the next version of FireFox, Firefox 51, will be changing how it presents the lock icon to represent security issues with the site. Traditionally, there would be a green lock icon for secure sites and no lock icon for sites that use HTTP. The new changes will introduce a grey lock icon with a red slash through it when a site is using HTTP and collects passwords. In addition, there will be a note indicating that “Logins entered on this page could be compromised.”

Mozilla also hints at some additional changes on the roadmap. In particular, a potential indicator on the password field that will alert the user that the account details are insecure and may be compromised. It will be interesting to see how this feature will be implemented, especially if the browser will inject code into the application code. This could raise some concerns for many others out there.

Back in September, 2016, Google announced that Chrome was making similar changes that would take effect in January. I did a podcast on this which is included here.

Google is going further than just passwords and including credit card number fields. There wasn’t much mentioned for FireFox about anything other than passwords. In both browsers, changes should be available soon. Help spread the word about the new changes so your users, your friends, and your family know what the new indicator really means.

You may be surprised at the number, or type of sites that may be affected by this. There are many forums and other community sites that get created without using HTTPS for transmission. This may be because the site owner doesn’t realize the benefits of using HTTPS. They may also not think that the site contains sensitive information, so why add the overhead. However, many of these sites do require you to create an account and log in with a password. Unfortunately, many people re-use passwords so na attacker getting that forum password may have also just gotten your password for other sites. Not to mention, they could impersonate you on the specific site.

In the absence of sensitive or account information, using HTTPS provides protection from traffic manipulation. Even rising a corporate landing page, an attacker on the same network could inject malicious code into the response to attempt malicious activity on your system.

What are your thoughts? Are you for the browsers making these types of changes? Do you think it is an overreach? If so, why? Share your thoughts on twitter or join our slack channel to join the conversation (send me an email for an invite).

Jardine Software helps companies get more value from their application security programs. Let’s talk about how we can help you. James Jardine is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Jardine Software Inc. He has over 15 years of combined development and security experience. If you are interested in learning more about Jardine Software, you can reach him at or @jardinesoftware on twitter.

Remember Me Features

Tired of constantly logging into your applications? Don’t you wish they would just remember you each time you visit, logging you right in? It isn’t as always easy to achieve such a status. There are multiple ways remember me can be implemented. Lets take a look at some of them.

Remember UserName

One of the most common ways for a site to implement the remember me functionality is to remember the username only. The username is typically stored in a cookie on the client’s computer. Remembering the username helps speed up the authentication process, but doesn’t eliminate it. The user still has to enter their password to gain access to the application. Although this is a common technique, some organizations may have data classification policies that don’t allow displaying the username in the application. This can also carry over to the username and the login screen. For these organizations, they may not implement a remember me feature at all. Remembering the username does contain some risk, as it instantly provides the username to an attacker on the user’s computer. This leaves just the password for the attacker to determine, which may be feasible if the user re-uses passwords that have been previously breached.

Long-term Auth Cookies

Another common technique for remembering a user is to set an authentication cookie that has a long life. Once you login, a cookie is created that may not expire for a year or longer. This allows you to be automatically logged in each time you visit the site. I am sure you can think of a few sites that provide this functionality. It is common among some of the social media sites people visit all the time. This is not recommended for any type of sensitive applications because it would allow immediate access to anyone that gains access to the user’s device.

Storing Password Locally (Remember Password)

Another option, that probably shouldn’t be an option, is storing the password on the user’s computer. This was recently seen on a web application, however we won’t mention the site that did this. We can, however learn from their decisions. In the application, they used CryptoJS to encrypt and decrypt this type of sensitive data. In this case, they stored the password in a cookie. With the encryption routines available on the client, it is possible to use them to decrypt the encrypted password with very little effort. This is typically the case any time the routines are made available, especially if the keys are available as well. While I am sure this was done with good intentions, the implementation is not very secure. As a matter of fact, it provides more of a false sense of security. This is most likely due to the use of encryption. It is not recommended to perform this type of encryption client-side, nor is it recommended to store the user’s password on the client like this.

What Next?

There are multiple options to help ease the burden of frequently logging into an application. Depending on the type of application, data stored, and sensitivity of the transactions, the options should be considered carefully. Providing the option to remember a username is convenient with some residual risk. Keeping a user logged in for extended periods of time increase the risk, but may be acceptable depending on the application and its use. Stay away from storing the user’s password locally on the computer they are using. Secure implementation is not easy or straightforward, increasing the risk levels.

Jardine Software helps companies get more value from their application security programs. Let’s talk about how we can help you. James Jardine is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Jardine Software Inc. He has over 15 years of combined development and security experience. If you are interested in learning more about Jardine Software, you can reach him at or @jardinesoftware on twitter.

Introducing our Slack channel

It is a new year and time for some new ways for all of us to communicate. We appreciate all that have read the posts and listened to the podcast. Both of these will continue to move forward in 2017 with some new material on the way.

We are happy to announce we have started a Slack channel. You can find it at The blog and podcasts have been great in providing information in a read-only manner. Slack is an opportunity to open up more conversation and create more dialog. A chance for us all to share stories and work out problems.

The channel is dedicated to application security topics. This means web, mobile, IoT, and whatever else is running applications. The goal is to provide a mechanism to bring application security into our everyday life. If you are interested in being a part of the DevelopSec Slack group, just drop me a line at I will send you out an invite.

DevelopSec encourages developers, business analysts, QA, and other application team members to take part in this great new opportunity.

Here is to 2017. A new year with new opportunities. As always, feel free to reach out to discuss AppSec.

MongoDBs under attack from ransomware

In recent news, it was identified that MongoDB databases are being exposed on the internet and infected with ransomeware. In a little under a week, the infection count went from 200 to 10,000. That is a quick ramp up.

In this case, misconfigurations may bind the database port to the public interface, while also allowing anonymous access. This combination can be devastating. Doing a quick search on Shodan you may find there are thousands of misconfigured MondoDB servers exposed on the internet.

Like many other software packages, MongoDB has a security checklist available to help minimize this exposure. The checklist covers important steps, such as enforcing authentication and limiting network exposure. I am seeing more packages that are including security checklists, or security guides that are available. If you are installing something new, take a moment to see if there is a guide availble to properly secure the item.

In addition to the security checklist, the creators of MongoDB have created a post addressing the ransomware attacks that are happening. This link points out a few other items to help secure your MongoDB instance. It also points out that the most popular installer for MongoDB (RPM) limits network access to localhost. This default configuration is critical in helping reduce the exposure of these databases.

As time goes on, I expect we will see more improvements made to these types of products that make them more secure by default. As an organization developing this type of software, or devices, think about how the item is installed and how that reflects security. Starting off more secure and requiring explicit configuration to open make the item available will provide much better protection than it being open by default.

If you are running MongoDB, go back and check the security checklist. Make sure you are not exposing the instance publicly and authentication is enabled. Also make sure you are taking proper backups to help recover if your data is manipulated. If you are running other software or devices, make sure to know where they are and determine if they are deployed securely. Check to see if a security checklist exists.

There are lots of exposed MongoDB databases available. Take a moment to make sure yours are not part of that count.

Jardine Software helps companies get more value from their application security programs. Let’s talk about how we can help you. James Jardine is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Jardine Software Inc. He has over 15 years of combined development and security experience. If you are interested in learning more about Jardine Software, you can reach him at or @jardinesoftware on twitter.