Course – LSS – NPI (cat=Spring Security)
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If you're working on a Spring Security (and especially an OAuth) implementation, definitely have a look at the Learn Spring Security course:


1. Overview

Cross-Site Scripting or XSS attacks consistently rank in the top ten of the most prevalent cyber-attacks. An XSS attack occurs when the web server processes a user’s malicious input without validating or encoding it and renders it on the page. Like XSS attacks, code injections and clickjacking create havoc on web applications by stealing user data and impersonating them.

In this tutorial, let’s learn how to mitigate code injection risks in Spring Security-based web applications using the Content-Security-Policy headers.

2. Content Security Policy

The Content Security Policy (CSP) is an HTTP response header that significantly reduces code-injection attacks like XSS, Clickjacking, etc., in modern browsers.

A web server specifies an allowlist of resources that a browser can render with a Content-Security-Policy header. These resources could be anything that a browser renders, for instance, CSS, Javascript, images, etc.

The syntax of this header is:

Content-Security-Policy: <directive>; <directive>; <directive> ; ...

Besides, we can set this policy as part of an HTML page’s <meta> tags:

<meta http-equiv="Content-Security-Policy" content="<directive>;<directive>;<directive>; ...">

Additionally, each of these directives contains a key with multiple values. There can be more than one directive, each separated by a semicolon (;):

Content-Security-Policy: script-src 'self'; style-src 'self';

In this case, we have two directives (script-src and style-src), and the directive script-src has two values (‘self’ and

3. Vulnerability Demonstration

Now, let’s see an example of how serious the XSS and code injection vulnerabilities can be.

3.1. Login Form

Generally, we redirect the user to a login page on a session timeout in web applications. Also, a standard login form has username/password fields and a submit button:

<span> Session time out. Please login.</span>
<form id="login" action="/login">
    <input type="email" class="form-control" id="email">
    <input type="password" class="form-control" id="password">
    <button type="submit">Login</button>

3.2. Code Injection

A user can inject suspicious code through form fields while providing user input. For example, assume a textbox that accepts usernames in a registration form.

Instead of a username, a user can input <script>alert(“this is not expected”)</script> and submit the form. Subsequently, when the form displays the username, it executes the script (alerts a message in this case). The script can even load external scripts that can cause more serious harm.

Similarly, let’s assume we have form fields with insufficient validations. Again, a user exploits this and injects a malicious Javascript code into the DOM (Document Object Model):

<span> Session time out. Please login.</span>
<form id="login" action="/login">
    <input type="email" class="form-control" id="email">
    <input type="password" class="form-control" id="password">
    <button type="submit">Login</button> 
    let form= document.forms.login;

This injected Javascript code redirects the users to a malicious site when clicking on a Login button.

When an unsuspecting user submits the form, he gets redirected to with his credentials exposed.

3.3. Demo

Let’s see this vulnerability in action.

Typically, after the session time out, the server redirects a user to a login page to enter his credentials. But, the injected malicious code redirects the user to an unintended site along with the user’s credentials:

4. Spring Security

In this section, let’s discuss ways to mitigate these code injection vulnerabilities.

4.1. HTML meta Tags

Adding a Content-Security-Policy header in the previous example would have blocked submitting the form to the malicious server. So, let’s add this header using the <meta> tag and check the behavior:

<meta http-equiv="Content-Security-Policy" content="form-action 'self';">

Adding the above meta tag prevents the browser from submitting the form to other origins:

csp 1 2

Even though the meta tags can mitigate the XSS and code injection attacks, they have limited functionality. For instance, we can’t use meta tags for reporting the Content-Security-Policy violations.

Henceforth, let’s use the power of Spring Security to mitigate these risks by setting the Content-Security-Policy header.

4.2. Maven Dependencies

First, let’s add Spring Security and Spring Web dependencies to our pom.xml:


4.3. Configuration

Next, let’s define Spring Security configuration by creating a SecurityFilterChain bean:

public class ContentSecurityPolicySecurityConfiguration {
    public SecurityFilterChain filterChain(HttpSecurity http) throws Exception {
            .contentSecurityPolicy(contentSecurityPolicyConfig -> contentSecurityPolicyConfig.policyDirectives("form-action 'self'"));

Here, we declared contentSecurityPolicy to restrict the form actions to the same origin.

4.4. Content-Security-Policy Response Header

With necessary configurations in place, let’s verify the security provided by Spring Security. For this, let’s open the browser’s developer tools (by pressing F12 or similar keys), click on the Network tab, and let’s open the URL http://localhost:8080:

csp 2 1

Now, we’ll fill the form and submit it:

csp 3 1

With the Content-Security-Policy header in place, the browser blocks the submit request and mitigates the risk of compromising the credentials.

Similarly, we can configure Spring Security to support different directives. For instance, this code specifies the browsers to load the scripts only from the same origin:

.contentSecurityPolicy("script-src 'self'");

Similarly, we can instruct the browsers to download the CSS only from the same origin and

.contentSecurityPolicy("style-src 'self'");

Additionally, we can combine any number of directives in the Content-Security-Policy header. For instance, to restrict the CSS, JS, and form actions, we can specify:

.contentSecurityPolicy("style-src 'self'; script-src 'self'; form-action 'self'")

4.5. Reporting

Apart from ordering the browsers to block malicious content, a server can ask the browsers to send a report for the blocked content. So, let’s combine the report-uri directive with other directives for the browser to send a POST whenever the content is blocked.

The browsers post the below content to the URL defined in report-uri:

    "csp-report": {
        "blocked-uri": "",
        "document-uri": "",
        "original-policy": "",
        "referrer": "",
        "violated-directive": ""

Therefore, we need to define an API that receives this violation report sent by the browser and log the request for illustration and clarity.

We should note that even though the directive report-uri is deprecated in favor of report-to, most browsers do not support report-to as on date. Hence, we’ll use both the report-uri and the report-to directives for the reporting.

First, let’s update our Spring Security configuration:

String REPORT_TO = "{\"group\":\"csp-violation-report\",\"max_age\":2592000,\"endpoints\":[{\"url\":\"https://localhost:8080/report\"}]}";
    .authorizeHttpRequests(authorizationManagerRequestMatcherRegistry -> authorizationManagerRequestMatcherRegistry.requestMatchers("/**").permitAll())
    .headers(httpSecurityHeadersConfigurer ->
                       .addHeaderWriter(new StaticHeadersWriter("Report-To", REPORT_TO))
                       .contentSecurityPolicy(contentSecurityPolicyConfig ->
                               contentSecurityPolicyConfig.policyDirectives("form-action 'self'; report-uri /report; report-to csp-violation-report")));

We first defined a report-to group with csp-violation-report and associated an endpoint. Next, as part of .contentSecurityPolicy, we used this group name as the value of the report-to directive.

Now, when we open the page in the browser, we see:

csp 4

Next, let’s fill the form and click the Login button. As expected, the browser blocks the request and sends a report. On the server console, we have a log similar to:

Report: {"csp-report":{"blocked-uri":"[email protected]&p=password","document-uri":"https://localhost:8080/","original-policy":"form-action 'self'; report-uri https://localhost:8080/report","referrer":"","violated-directive":"form-action"}}

Here’s the same report after formatting the JSON:

    "csp-report": {
        "blocked-uri": "[email protected]&p=password",
	"document-uri": "https://localhost:8080/",
	"original-policy": "form-action 'self'; report-uri https://localhost:8080/report",
	"referrer": "",
	"violated-directive": "form-action"

5. Conclusion

In this article, we have seen how to guard our web applications from clickjacking, code injections, and XSS attacks.

While there is no complete protection from these attacks, the Content-Security-Policy header helps in mitigating most of these attacks. Notably, as of date, most modern browsers do not entirely support this header. Hence, designing and building applications with solid security principles and standards are critical.

As always, the complete source code is available over on GitHub.

Course – LSS (cat=Security/Spring Security)

I just announced the new Learn Spring Security course, including the full material focused on the new OAuth2 stack in Spring Security:

res – Security (video) (cat=Security/Spring Security)
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