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CSRF Token

Overview#

CSRF Token is a HTTP token used to to prevent CSRF exploits

Characteristics of a CSRF Token:

  • Unique per user session
  • Large random value
Generated by a cryptographically secure pseudorandom number generator.

The CSRF Token is added as a hidden HTTP Header Field for forms or within the URL if the state changing operation occurs via a HTTP GET

The server rejects the requested action if the CSRF Token fails validation

In order to facilitate a "transparent but visible" CSRF solution, developers are encouraged to adopt the Synchronizer Token Pattern.

The synchronizer token pattern requires the generating of random "challenge" tokens that are associated with the user's current session. These challenge tokens are then inserted within the HTML forms and links associated with sensitive server-side operations. When the user wishes to invoke these sensitive operations, the HTTP request should include this challenge token. It is then the responsibility of the server application to verify the existence and correctness of this token. By including a challenge token with each request, the developer has a strong control to verify that the user actually intended to submit the desired requests. Inclusion of a required security token in HTTP requests associated with sensitive business functions helps mitigate CSRF attacks as successful exploitation assumes the attacker knows the randomly generated token for the target victim's session. This is analogous to the attacker being able to guess the target victim's session identifier. The following synopsis describes a general approach to incorporate challenge tokens within the request.

When a Web application formulates a request (by generating a link or form that causes a request when submitted or clicked by the user), the application should include a hidden input parameter with a common name such as "CSRFToken". The value of this token must be randomly generated such that it cannot be guessed by an attacker. Consider leveraging the java.security.SecureRandom class for Java applications to generate a sufficiently long random token. Alternative generation algorithms include the use of 256-bit BASE64 encoded hashes. Developers that choose this generation algorithm must make sure that there is randomness and uniqueness utilized in the data that is hashed to generate the random token.

  <form action="/transfer.do" method="post">
  <input type="hidden" name="CSRFToken" 
  value="OWY4NmQwODE4ODRjN2Q2NTlhMmZlYWE...
  wYzU1YWQwMTVhM2JmNGYxYjJiMGI4MjJjZDE1ZDZ...
  MGYwMGEwOA==">
  …
  </form>

In general, developers need only generate this token once for the current session. After initial generation of this token, the value is stored in the session and is utilized for each subsequent request until the session expires. When a request is issued by the user-agent, the server-side component must verify the existence and validity of the token in the request as compared to the token found in the session. If the token was not found within the request or the value provided does not match the value within the session, then the request should be aborted, token should be reset and the event logged as a potential CSRF attack in progress.

To further enhance the security of this proposed design, consider randomizing the CSRF Token parameter name and/or value for each request. Implementing this approach results in the generation of per-request tokens as opposed to per-session tokens. Note, however, that this may result in usability concerns. For example, the "Back" button browser capability is often hindered as the previous page may contain a token that is no longer valid. Interaction with this previous page will result in a CSRF false positive security event at the server. Regardless of the approach taken, developers are encouraged to protect the CSRF Token the same way they protect authenticated session identifiers, such as the use of TLS.

More Information#

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