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What is SQL Injection?

What is SQL Injection?

SQL Injection is one of the methods hackers use to steal valuable or sensitive data from businesses. In fact, it is one of the most widely used application layer attack techniques used today.

This hacking technique exploits shoddy coding on a website by injecting SQL commands into input fields, such as login forms. This allows attackers to gain access to databases.

The primary purpose of the input fields on your website is to allow users to input information into your database. Hackers exploit this by inputting SQL statements into input fields to query the database directly.

An In-depth Explanation about SQL Injection

Web applications allow legitimate website visitors to input information to a database over the Internet. Databases are crucial to sustaining modern websites; you could even say databases are the heart of all contemporary sites.

They store the information required for websites to function correctly. As a result, sites rely on these databases to deliver content to visitors. Personal information, financial records, sensitive business data, and more can easily be found and accessed by users through personal accounts.

So, although databases and web applications create easy pathways for hackers to access valuable information, they are essential to running a business online.

Exploiting Vulnerabilities on your Website

SQL Injection attempts to input SQL commands through the input fields on your website to query the backend database. If there are vulnerabilities in your system, cybercriminals can quickly access the sensitive information they require.

Worse still, hackers can manipulate your database or wipe it out completely. Contact forms, login pages, search pages, shopping carts, user profiles, and other types of dynamic content are integral to websites. This is because they provide businesses with a way to communicate with their customers.

However, all these features are vulnerable to SQL Injection attacks. Hackers often exploit these input fields using SQL statements to pass through network security and directly query the database.

A Simple Example of SQL Injection

It’s hard to comprehend how hackers exploit the basic features on a website, access your database and steal data. So here is an example to better illustrate how attackers do it:

• A legitimate user would typically enter their credentials into a login page to view a secure area on a website. This area could be the shopping cart of an e-commerce website or the settings page for a social media account.

• When a legitimate user enters their username and password, an SQL query is created and sent to the database. Once the database verifies it, the user is allowed access to the secure area of the website.

• Through SQL injection, the hacker can input specifically created SQL commands into the login form. By doing so, they can bypass it and see the valuable data in the database. The hacker is only able to access the database like this if your website has vulnerabilities in your input areas – maybe your inputs are not sanitized or made invulnerable.

• These vulnerabilities will allow the hacker to send SQL queries to the database directly. Hence why SQL Injection vulnerabilities are such an easy route in for cybercriminals. They provide the means for a hacker to communicate directly to the database.

• The technologies vulnerable to these attacks are dynamic script languages including ASP, ASP.NET, PHP, JSP, and CGI. Anyone with a web browser, knowledge of SQL queries and the ability to guess table and field names can attack. SQL Injection’s simplistic nature has fueled its growing popularity in recent years.

How is it Possible for SQL Queries to Bypass Firewalls and Other Security Mechanisms?

Firewalls and other security mechanisms are useless against full-scale SQL Injection web attacks. Your website must be public for legitimate users to access it. For this reason, security mechanisms will allow public web traffic to access your site and communicate to your database.

Hence, any visitor to your website has open access to the database, as your website must be able to return (update) the requested (changed) information.

SQL, or Structured Query Language, is a standard computer language. This computer language gives us the capability to save, manipulate, and retrieve data in a database. In fact, SQL is the only way in which websites can communicate with databases.

Examples of relational databases include MySQL, Oracle, Microsoft Access, and many more, all of which are heavily dependent on SQL.

Here is an example of the SQL commands which can get past the login form mentioned above:

SELECT count(*)
FROM users_list_table

Simply put, this SQL command will instruct the database to discover the username and password of a legitimate user. In other words, the login form which is supposed to protect your sensitive information can be exploited to reveal it.

Every website has its own specific set of SQL queries that are vital for its function. If any input field remains vulnerable to hackers, an attacker may inject additional SQL commands. This will force the website to perform specific tasks out of its usual capabilities.

By stretching the limits of the website, attackers can access information not previously available. As a result, any hacker that uses SQL Injection will have a clear path to the heart of your website. This is regardless of the quality, or quantity, of network security systems you have in place.

Can SQL Injection Affect my Database?

Yes. SQL Injection is one of the most popular intrusion techniques among modern hackers. Although it is relatively easy to protect websites against SQL Injection, many business owners are oblivious to the threat.

According to the Web Application Security Consortium, before July 2006, only 9% of reported hacks were due to SQL Injection. Today, approximately 50% of websites are vulnerable to this type of attack.

If you don’t have in-depth technical knowledge of the threat, it could be quite difficult for you to know if your site is vulnerable. But, with 50% of websites a potential target – it probably is.

The crucial question is “How does your website respond to SQL commands?” You need to know if hackers can view sensitive information on your site. If your website is improperly coded, there is high-risk hackers could steal your corporate and customer data.

A developer can manually set every database’s level of security. Whether a hacker can gain access to your database depends on the level of protection deployed.

Unfortunately, most databases are set to “read access.” This that even if an intruder is unable to manipulate your database, they can still easily read your sensitive data.

What Impact Can SQL Injection Have on my Website?

As explained, an attacker can easily access your website’s database through SQL Injection. Once they find out your website is vulnerable, they can inject SQL commands through an input field. This is equivalent to giving the hacker full access to execute any SQL command on your site.

SQL Injection leads to different levels of system access depending on the back-end database system you use. It’s even possible to edit system files or execute shell commands, i.e., command line commands, on the underlying operating system.

This could spell disaster on specific SQL servers, such as Microsoft SQL Server, which contains database server functions.

Unfortunately, the impact of an SQL Injection attack is only evident after data is stolen or a server manipulated. The fact is, expert hackers rarely get caught.

How Can I Secure my Database from SQL Injection Attacks?

Your ordinary antivirus or network security mechanisms are futile against SQL Injection attacks. This is because these attacks target your website through the very means any legitimate user can access it.

They enter your database through input fields on your website which are specifically designed to facilitate general users.

What you need is to detect and repair all the vulnerabilities on your website before any hackers can exploit them. Though patching your servers and databases can help, patches will never be able to withstand a full-scale SQL Injection attack.

But thankfully, we have the means and knowledge to protect your website. Please click here to find out more.