What Every Internet User Should Know About Cross-Site Scripting Attacks

In today's digital age, we rely on the Internet for almost everything, from shopping to communication to entertainment. However, there is a dark side to the web, where cybercriminals lurk, looking for any vulnerabilities they can exploit. Cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks are a prime example of such nasty tools used by malicious attackers to gain access to websites and steal sensitive information.

In this article, we will take a deep dive into cross-site scripting attacks, what they are, how they work, and how you can protect yourself from them.

## What is a cross-site scripting attack?

Cross-site scripting (XSS) is a type of cyberattack that targets web applications by injecting malicious code into the target website. The attacker injects a script into a web page that is then executed by unsuspecting users who visit that site. This means that an attacker can exploit vulnerabilities in a site's code to inject their own code, giving them access to sensitive user information or control of the site itself.

XSS attacks exploit the functionality of modern web applications, which allow users to interact with websites using scripts. These scripts can be used to customize and improve the user experience, making sites more interactive and user-friendly. However, malicious actors can use these same scripts to steal data or execute unwanted actions.

## How does a cross-site scripting attack work?

To understand how a cross-site scripting attack works, let us consider an example. Suppose a hacker wants to gain access to a popular social networking site. They might begin by using a search engine to look for vulnerable pages on the site they can exploit.

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Once the attacker finds such a page, they'll inject their malicious script into the site's code through the vulnerability. This script is usually written in JavaScript, which is widely used in web development, and can perform a number of actions, such as stealing login credentials and session cookies, or redirecting the user to another site where they can be subjected to further attacks.

When a user visits the site and interacts with the script, their browser executes it, allowing the attacker to access their information. One of the key issues with XSS attacks is that they can be hard to detect since the script code is often embedded in the middle of a webpage.

## Types of cross-site scripting attacks

There are two main types of cross-site scripting attacks: persistent and reflected.

### Persistent XSS attack

A persistent XSS attack arises when a malicious script is injected into a site's database and is executed every time a user visits the site. This type of XSS attack can have a long-lasting impact since the script remains present in the site's code regardless of whether or not the user has logged out.

An example of a persistent XSS attack is the MySpace Worm, which affected the social networking site MySpace in 2005. The attacker used a vulnerability in MySpace's profile editing feature to inject a script into user profiles. When other users visited these profiles, the script was executed, and their browser would be redirected to further attacks, ultimately infecting millions of accounts before the flaw was patched.

### Reflected XSS attack

In a reflected XSS attack, the malicious script is not stored on the target server but rather transmitted to the site by the attacker in a hyperlink, email, or other means that convince the user to click on it. The server reflects the script back to the user's browser, which executes it, effectively executing the attacker's code and enabling them to steal sensitive information.

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An example of a reflected XSS attack is the Samy worm, which affected MySpace in 2005. This attack tricked users into clicking a hyperlink that contained malicious code, which would then be transmitted to the server and reflected back to other users' browsers, spreading the worm quickly.

## How to protect yourself from cross-site scripting attacks?

Now that we know what cross-site scripting attacks are and how they work, it's essential to understand how to protect ourselves from them. The following are some of the steps you can take to safeguard yourself from an XSS attack.

### Keep your browser updated

Most modern browsers regularly push security updates that patch any vulnerabilities that cybercriminals try to exploit. Keeping your browser updated ensures that it has the latest security patches, allowing you to surf the web with minimal risk of attack.

### Use a script-blocking extension

Browser extensions like NoScript can block scripts from untrusted sites, preventing them from executing on your computer. These extensions add an extra layer of security to your browser and can be especially helpful when visiting unfamiliar sites.

### Filter input and output data

Website developers should validate and sanitize all user input and output data to prevent XSS attacks. This means that any form inputs or data outputted to pages should be filtered for any suspicious script tags.

### Double-check links before clicking

Before you click on any links, especially from unfamiliar websites, take a few moments to verify that the link is legitimate. Hover over the link and check to see that the URL matches the site you're trying to visit.

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In conclusion, cross-site scripting attacks are a serious threat in today's digital age, and it's important to understand how to protect yourself from them. Keeping your browser updated, using a script-blocking extension, filtering input and output data, and double-checking links before clicking can help keep you safe from harm. By following these steps, you can surf the web with peace of mind, knowing that you're protected from one of the most notorious cyberattacks.

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