SQL - Injection

If you take a user input through a webpage and insert it into an SQL database, there is a chance that you have left yourself wide open for a security issue known as the SQL Injection. This chapter will teach you how to help prevent this from happening and help you secure your scripts and SQL statements in your server side scripts such as a PERL Script.

SQL Injection

SQL Injection is a type of security attack that exploits a vulnerability in a database by executing malicious queries. This will allow attackers to access sensitive data, tamper it and also delete it permanently.

Injection usually occurs when you ask a user for input, like their name and instead of a name they give you a SQL statement that you will unknowingly run on your database. Never trust user provided data, process this data only after validation; as a rule, this is done by Pattern Matching.


In the example below, the name is restricted to the alphanumerical characters plus underscore and to a length between 8 and 20 characters (you can modify these rules as needed).

if (preg_match("/^\w{8,20}$/", $_GET['username'], $matches)) {
   $result = mysqli_query("SELECT * FROM CUSTOMERS 
      WHERE name = $matches[0]");
} else {
   echo "user name not accepted";

To demonstrate the problem, consider this excerpt −

// supposed input
$name = "Qadir'; DELETE FROM CUSTOMERS;";
mysqli_query("SELECT * FROM CUSTOMSRS WHERE name='{$name}'");

The function call is supposed to retrieve a record from the CUSTOMERS table where the name column matches the name specified by the user. Under normal circumstances, $name would only contain alphanumeric characters and perhaps spaces. But here, by appending an entirely new query to $name, the call to the database turns into disaster; the injected DELETE query removes all records from the CUSTOMERS table.

Fortunately, if you use MySQL, the mysqli_query() function does not permit query stacking or executing multiple SQL queries in a single function call. If you try to stack queries, the call fails.

However, other PHP database extensions, such as SQLite and PostgreSQL happily perform stacked queries, executing all the queries provided in one string and creating a serious security problem.

Preventing SQL Injection

You can handle all escape characters smartly in scripting languages like PERL and PHP. The MySQL extension for PHP provides the function mysql_real_escape_string() to escape input characters that are special to MySQL.

if (get_magic_quotes_gpc()) {
   $name = stripslashes($name);
$name = mysql_real_escape_string($name);
mysqli_query("SELECT * FROM CUSTOMERS WHERE name='{$name}'");

The LIKE Quandary

To address the LIKE quandary, a custom escaping mechanism must convert user-supplied '%' and '_' characters to literals. Use addcslashes(), a function that lets you specify a character range to escape.

$sub = addcslashes(mysql_real_escape_string("%str"), "%_");
// $sub == \%str\_
mysqli_query("SELECT * FROM messages 
   WHERE subject LIKE '{$sub}%'");