Where We Stand (or Fall): An Analysis of CSRF Defenses in Web Frameworks

Likaj, Xhelal and Khodayari, Soheil and Pellegrino, Giancarlo
(2021) Where We Stand (or Fall): An Analysis of CSRF Defenses in Web Frameworks.
In: 24th International Symposium on Research in Attacks, Intrusions and Defenses (RAID ’21).
Conference: RAID The International Symposium on Research in Attacks, Intrusions and Defenses (was International Symposium on Recent Advances in Intrusion Detection)

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Abstract

Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) is among the oldest web vulnerabilities that, despite its popularity and severity, it is still an understudied security problem. In this paper, we undertake one of the first security evaluations of CSRF defense as implemented by popular web frameworks, with the overarching goal to identify additional explanations to the occurrences of such an old vulnerability. Starting from a review of existing literature, we identify 16 CSRF defenses and 18 potential threats agains them. Then, we evaluate the source code of the 44 most popular web frameworks across five languages (i.e., JavaScript, Python, Java, PHP, and C#) covering about 5.5 million LoCs, intending to determine the implemented defenses and their exposure to the identified threats. We also quantify the quality of web frameworks' documentation, looking for incomplete, misleading, or insufficient information required by developers to use the implemented CSRF defenses correctly. Our study uncovers a rather complex landscape, suggesting that while implementations of CSRF defenses exist, their correct and secure use depends on developers' awareness and expertise about CSRF attacks. More than a third of the frameworks require developers to write code to use the defense, modify the configuration to enable CSRF defenses, or look for an external library as CSRF defenses are not built-in. Even when using defenses, developers need to be aware and address a diversity of additional security risks. In total, we identified 157 security risks in 37 frameworks, of which 17 are directly exploitable to mount a CSRF attack, leveraging implementation mistakes, cryptography-related flaws, cookie integrity, and leakage of CSRF tokens---including three critical vulnerabilities in CakePHP, Vert.x-Web, and Play. The developers' feedback indicate that, for a significant fraction of risks, frameworks have divergent expectations about who is responsible for addressing them. Finally, the documentation analysis reveals several inadequacies, including not mentioning the implemented defense, and not showing code examples for correct use.

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