Improper Neutralization of Input During Web Page Generation ('Cross-site Scripting')

The software does not neutralize or incorrectly neutralizes user-controllable input before it is placed in output that is used as a web page that is served to other users.


Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities occur when:

Untrusted data enters a web application, typically from a web request.

The web application dynamically generates a web page that contains this untrusted data.

During page generation, the application does not prevent the data from containing content that is executable by a web browser, such as JavaScript, HTML tags, HTML attributes, mouse events, Flash, ActiveX, etc.

A victim visits the generated web page through a web browser, which contains malicious script that was injected using the untrusted data.

Since the script comes from a web page that was sent by the web server, the victim's web browser executes the malicious script in the context of the web server's domain.

This effectively violates the intention of the web browser's same-origin policy, which states that scripts in one domain should not be able to access resources or run code in a different domain.

There are three main kinds of XSS:

Type 1: Reflected XSS (or Non-Persistent)

The server reads data directly from the HTTP request and reflects it back in the HTTP response. Reflected XSS exploits occur when an attacker causes a victim to supply dangerous content to a vulnerable web application, which is then reflected back to the victim and executed by the web browser. The most common mechanism for delivering malicious content is to include it as a parameter in a URL that is posted publicly or e-mailed directly to the victim. URLs constructed in this manner constitute the core of many phishing schemes, whereby an attacker convinces a victim to visit a URL that refers to a vulnerable site. After the site reflects the attacker's content back to the victim, the content is executed by the victim's browser.

Type 2: Stored XSS (or Persistent)

The application stores dangerous data in a database, message forum, visitor log, or other trusted data store. At a later time, the dangerous data is subsequently read back into the application and included in dynamic content. From an attacker's perspective, the optimal place to inject malicious content is in an area that is displayed to either many users or particularly interesting users. Interesting users typically have elevated privileges in the application or interact with sensitive data that is valuable to the attacker. If one of these users executes malicious content, the attacker may be able to perform privileged operations on behalf of the user or gain access to sensitive data belonging to the user. For example, the attacker might inject XSS into a log message, which might not be handled properly when an administrator views the logs.

Type 0: DOM-Based XSS

In DOM-based XSS, the client performs the injection of XSS into the page; in the other types, the server performs the injection. DOM-based XSS generally involves server-controlled, trusted script that is sent to the client, such as Javascript that performs sanity checks on a form before the user submits it. If the server-supplied script processes user-supplied data and then injects it back into the web page (such as with dynamic HTML), then DOM-based XSS is possible.

Once the malicious script is injected, the attacker can perform a variety of malicious activities. The attacker could transfer private information, such as cookies that may include session information, from the victim's machine to the attacker. The attacker could send malicious requests to a web site on behalf of the victim, which could be especially dangerous to the site if the victim has administrator privileges to manage that site. Phishing attacks could be used to emulate trusted web sites and trick the victim into entering a password, allowing the attacker to compromise the victim's account on that web site. Finally, the script could exploit a vulnerability in the web browser itself possibly taking over the victim's machine, sometimes referred to as "drive-by hacking."

In many cases, the attack can be launched without the victim even being aware of it. Even with careful users, attackers frequently use a variety of methods to encode the malicious portion of the attack, such as URL encoding or Unicode, so the request looks less suspicious.


Same Origin Policy

The same origin policy states that browsers should limit the resources accessible to scripts running on a given web site, or "origin", to the resources associated with that web site on the client-side, and not the client-side resources of any other sites or "origins". The goal is to prevent one site from being able to modify or read the contents of an unrelated site. Since the World Wide Web involves interactions between many sites, this policy is important for browsers to enforce.


The Domain of a website when referring to XSS is roughly equivalent to the resources associated with that website on the client-side of the connection. That is, the domain can be thought of as all resources the browser is storing for the user's interactions with this particular site.


The following examples help to illustrate the nature of this weakness and describe methods or techniques which can be used to mitigate the risk.

Note that the examples here are by no means exhaustive and any given weakness may have many subtle varieties, each of which may require different detection methods or runtime controls.

Example One

This code displays a welcome message on a web page based on the HTTP GET username parameter. This example covers a Reflected XSS (Type 1) scenario.

$username = $_GET['username'];
echo '<div class="header"> Welcome, ' . $username . '</div>';

Because the parameter can be arbitrary, the url of the page could be modified so $username contains scripting syntax, such as<Script Language="Javascript">alert("You've been attacked!");</Script>

This results in a harmless alert dialogue popping up. Initially this might not appear to be much of a vulnerability. After all, why would someone enter a URL that causes malicious code to run on their own computer? The real danger is that an attacker will create the malicious URL, then use e-mail or social engineering tricks to lure victims into visiting a link to the URL. When victims click the link, they unwittingly reflect the malicious content through the vulnerable web application back to their own computers.

More realistically, the attacker can embed a fake login box on the page, tricking the user into sending the user's password to the attacker:<div id="stealPassword">Please Login:<form name="input" action="" method="post">Username: <input type="text" name="username" /><br/>Password: <input type="password" name="password" /><br/><input type="submit" value="Login" /></form></div>

If a user clicks on this link then Welcome.php will generate the following HTML and send it to the user's browser:

<div class="header"> Welcome, <div id="stealPassword"> Please Login:

  <form name="input" action="" method="post">
    Username: <input type="text" name="username" /><br/>
    Password: <input type="password" name="password" /><br/>
    <input type="submit" value="Login" />


The trustworthy domain of the URL may falsely assure the user that it is OK to follow the link. However, an astute user may notice the suspicious text appended to the URL. An attacker may further obfuscate the URL (the following example links are broken into multiple lines for readability):

The same attack string could also be obfuscated as:<script+type="text/javascript">

Both of these attack links will result in the fake login box appearing on the page, and users are more likely to ignore indecipherable text at the end of URLs.

Example Two

This example also displays a Reflected XSS (Type 1) scenario.

The following JSP code segment reads an employee ID, eid, from an HTTP request and displays it to the user.

<% String eid = request.getParameter("eid"); %>
Employee ID: <%= eid %>

The following ASP.NET code segment reads an employee ID number from an HTTP request and displays it to the user.

protected System.Web.UI.WebControls.TextBox Login;
protected System.Web.UI.WebControls.Label EmployeeID;
EmployeeID.Text = Login.Text;

<p><asp:label id="EmployeeID" runat="server" /></p>

The code in this example operates correctly if the Employee ID variable contains only standard alphanumeric text. If it has a value that includes meta-characters or source code, then the code will be executed by the web browser as it displays the HTTP response.

Example Three

This example covers a Stored XSS (Type 2) scenario.

The following JSP code segment queries a database for an employee with a given ID and prints the corresponding employee's name.

<%Statement stmt = conn.createStatement();
ResultSet rs = stmt.executeQuery("select * from emp where id="+eid);
if (rs != null) {;
  String name = rs.getString("name");

Employee Name: <%= name %>

The following ASP.NET code segment queries a database for an employee with a given employee ID and prints the name corresponding with the ID.

protected System.Web.UI.WebControls.Label EmployeeName;
string query = "select * from emp where id=" + eid;
sda = new SqlDataAdapter(query, conn);
string name = dt.Rows[0]["Name"];
EmployeeName.Text = name;%>
<p><asp:label id="EmployeeName" runat="server" /></p>

This code can appear less dangerous because the value of name is read from a database, whose contents are apparently managed by the application. However, if the value of name originates from user-supplied data, then the database can be a conduit for malicious content. Without proper input validation on all data stored in the database, an attacker can execute malicious commands in the user's web browser.

Example Four

The following example consists of two separate pages in a web application, one devoted to creating user accounts and another devoted to listing active users currently logged in. It also displays a Stored XSS (Type 2) scenario.


$username = mysql_real_escape_string($username);
$fullName = mysql_real_escape_string($fullName);
$query = sprintf('Insert Into users (username,password) Values ("%s","%s","%s")', $username, crypt($password),$fullName) ;

The code is careful to avoid a SQL injection attack (CWE-89) but does not stop valid HTML from being stored in the database. This can be exploited later when ListUsers.php retrieves the information:


$query = 'Select * From users Where loggedIn=true';
$results = mysql_query($query);

if (!$results) {

//Print list of users to page
echo '<div id="userlist">Currently Active Users:';
while ($row = mysql_fetch_assoc($results)) {
  echo '<div class="userNames">'.$row['fullname'].'</div>';
echo '</div>';

The attacker can set their name to be arbitrary HTML, which will then be displayed to all visitors of the Active Users page. This HTML can, for example, be a password stealing Login message.

Example Five

Consider an application that provides a simplistic message board that saves messages in HTML format and appends them to a file. When a new user arrives in the room, it makes an announcement:

$name = $_COOKIE["myname"];
$announceStr = "$name just logged in.";

//save HTML-formatted message to file; implementation details are irrelevant for this example.

An attacker may be able to perform an HTML injection (Type 2 XSS) attack by setting a cookie to a value like:


The raw contents of the message file would look like:

<script>document.alert('Hacked');</script> has logged in.

For each person who visits the message page, their browser would execute the script, generating a pop-up window that says "Hacked". More malicious attacks are possible; see the rest of this entry.

See Also

CISQ Quality Measures - Security

Weaknesses in this category are related to the CISQ Quality Measures for Security. Presence of these weaknesses could reduce the security of the software.

CISQ Quality Measures - Security

Weaknesses in this category are related to the CISQ Quality Measures for Security. Presence of these weaknesses could reduce the security of the software.

OWASP Top Ten 2017 Category A7 - Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

Weaknesses in this category are related to the A7 category in the OWASP Top Ten 2017.

Comprehensive CWE Dictionary

This view (slice) covers all the elements in CWE.

Weaknesses in the 2020 CWE Top 25 Most Dangerous Software Weaknesses

CWE entries in this view are listed in the 2020 CWE Top 25 Most Dangerous Software Weaknesses.

CISQ Data Protection Measures

This view outlines the SMM representation of the Automated Source Code Data Protection Measurement specifications, as identified by the Consortium for Information & So...

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