XOR-Based SQL Attacks: What Are They and How Do They Work?

Information technology has come a long way over the last few decades, and the computers in our homes and offices are as advanced as most government-issue units. While the mechanical components of computers are the most advanced and costly, the software is where the magic happens. The software enables us to use the computers needed to do our jobs and access online information. 

As remarkable as it is, this software has a few vulnerabilities that can lead to serious issues if not addressed. The most important issue is the rise of cybercriminals such as hackers, phishers, and the like. Cybercrimes have been at an all-time high since information technology became the main source of information worldwide.

Information technology is always evolving due to the large number of firms creating updated software. While this evolution has worked to keep personal and professional devices secure from breach attempts, the ones responsible for the attacks evolve with the defenses. Cybercriminals enhance their knowledge of current software and operating systems to overcome modern cybersecurity measures. They learn how to exploit weaknesses and occasionally strengths associated with the software to turn it against us. 

One of the tools cybercriminals use is XOR-based SQL attacks to bypass security measures through an integrated function. Unfortunately, the average person does not know what an XOR-based SQL attack is or how they work.

An XOR-Based SQL Attack

What is XOR?

XOR is not a concept that is well-known amongst the average citizens of the world since it is based on computer science. Programming involves using several languages and codes that can automate the functions of modern computers. One of the lesser-known code strings is XOR, a Boolean logic operation. Boolean strings are a programming tool that consists of an algebraic notation used to compute data and process task propositions through software. Booleans are a string of variables used to execute programs, trigger criteria, and log the changes in values. XOR is a unique form of Boolean processing primarily used in cryptography, which means it is used to decode unfamiliar data strings.

While this might sound complicated, XOR has a simple logic that is easy to follow once you have a little hands-on experience. Essentially, an XOR system checks bits of data to determine whether the data is the same or different. If the data is the same, an XOR system will return a value of 0. If the data is different, the system will return a value of 1. XOR can be used to encrypt data or decrypt it depending on what the system needs are. XOR strings can serve as a skeleton key for the right programmers and enable a deeper understanding of unfamiliar data lists.

What is XOR

XOR is primarily associated with the C and C++ programming languages and is an unsung part of the security measures used by cybersecurity programs. Despite most people not knowing it exists, XOR has been a major part of data interpretation for a long time. Unfortunately, XOR is no less susceptible to the efforts of cybercriminals than any other coding function. This susceptibility is an inescapable part of the software that ensures we continue using cybersecurity experts to protect our data. Unfortunately, there are other things to consider when dealing with data security and programs.

What is SQL?

In the world of information technology, multiple programming languages are used to produce programs, applications, and data repositories. Some coding languages are best suited for certain tasks, while others are better oriented for unrelated tasks. The most popular programming languages include C++ and JavaScript, but other languages retain value in modern information technology. 

One of these programming languages is Structured Query Language (SQL). Colloquially called “sequel,” SQL is a domain-specific programming language that has existed for almost 50 years. A domain-specific programming language is a language that is designed to work specifically within a particular program or application. 

An excellent example of a domain-specific language is the Unreal Engine, a gaming engine responsible for several popular video games that is entering its 5th iteration. Every version of the engine before Unreal Engine 4 used a programming language called UnrealScript. UnrealScript, as the name suggests, was incompatible with any domain other than Unreal Engine, Unreal Engine 2, or Unreal Engine 3. After Unreal Engine 4 was released, the engine switched programming languages, and UnrealScript was abandoned. However, UnrealScript was a domain-specific programming language.

What is SQL

SQL follows the same trend in that it is specifically designed for relational database management systems (RDMBS). While SQL is a little more modular than UnrealScript, it is still specific to a domain type and will not function outside that domain. SQL was originally developed by Donald D. Chamberlain and Raymond F. Boyce at the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) in the early 1970s. 

The original model, the Structured English Query Language (SEQUEL), was designed to manipulate and retrieve data in IBM’s database management system. After relocating to California and encountering a copyright issue with the name SEQUEL, SQL was born and saw a test release in 1979. Subsequent test releases in 1981 and 1983 helped IBM refine SQL before the stable release launched in 2016.

Despite being almost 50 years old, SQL is a relatively new tool for programmers and cybersecurity professionals. Yet, it has become a highly effective syntax for regulating database management systems. SQL’s biggest benefit is that we can use it in conjunction with other programming and coding systems to create dynamic management systems. Unfortunately, this synergy is not exclusively employed by honest citizens and is often abused by cybercriminals.

What is an XOR-Based SQL Attack?

As the name implies, cybercriminals can employ XOR and SQL to launch database attacks. As you will recall, XOR is a cryptography Boolean that can identify whether the information you input is identical to what is in the database. SQL is a database management system to retrieve and manipulates data for easy access. Putting them together creates an injection that can use brute force to access sensitive information. 

The combination of XOR and SQL is referred to as an XOR-based SQL injection, and it enables computer experts to penetrate a database and access the information stored inside. These injections capitalize on the base functions of both programs to bypass the security measures most applications employ.

Most SQL injection attacks focus on bypassing password protection with the XOR program being used to identify the password. It does this by using XOR to figure out what characters are present in the password through something that equates to a brute-force hack. The SQL injection allows a cybercriminal to inject up to 50 characters into their data request. The XOR cryptography software compares the characters used in the injection to what is present in the password. With 50 characters per injection, it can be easy for an SQL injection to overpower password protection. Fortunately, most injections have lower character limits, with some being limited to 16 characters at most.

Performing an XOR-Based SQL Attack

The specifics of an XOR-based SQL attack will vary depending on the cybercriminal’s resources and might have higher or lower character limits. Furthermore, most SQL injections exploit a weakness in the application’s software that makes it vulnerable to cyberattacks. These vulnerabilities can be devastating since most applications store sensitive user information. 

When a cybercriminal’s SQL injection bypasses the security, they could gain access to the user’s private information and abuse it for their own gain. Fortunately, these attacks are only successful when there is a pre-existing system vulnerability. Otherwise, the firewalls in place would repel injection attempts from unauthorized networks and devices.

Unfortunately, determining whether such a vulnerability can be challenging since networks are constantly being updated. This means it falls to the database’s owners and managers to check for these vulnerabilities before injection attacks occur.

How to Protect Against Injection Attacks

Injection attacks can be a serious threat to the integrity and safety of an application or database. While SQL injection attacks are not always successful, they account for 47% of cyber-attacks in the modern era. The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) lists injection attacks as the #1 threat to data security. This is likely because injection attacks enable hackers to destroy an application’s database and abscond with private information. 

Unfortunately, injection attacks are so common because the constant updates to software introduce new vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can exploit. Combined with the growing knowledge cybercriminals can acquire, SQL injection attacks will likely remain a constant threat to future software.

Countering an SQL injection requires an arsenal of firewalls, cybersecurity response protocols, and computer experts capable of identifying the attacks. However, these resources are wasted unless your cybersecurity team employs pre-emptive measures against SQL injection. The best way to do that is to assess the vulnerabilities in your present software build and determine where the injection attacks are liable to occur. 

With the expansive responsibilities most software possesses, it should not surprise anyone that there will be security gaps. When these gaps are located, a trained professional can introduce a patch. Patches are software updates that literally patch up a tear in the software’s security or functionality.

Injection Attack Password Protection

The method cybersecurity teams use to identify a vulnerability is called penetration testing. Penetration testing is when an authorized “hacker” attempts to break into your database, server, or other software as though they are a cybercriminal. The tests help locate vulnerabilities in real time and usually involve a team of “hackers” who employ multiple techniques to find these vulnerabilities. Among the techniques are SQL injection attacks that the friendly hacker conducts so you can figure out how they got in and how to patch the weak point. Penetration testing has several variants that help preserve the integrity of the results, including:

  • Open-Box Testing: An open-box penetration test involves testers with firsthand experience with the software.
  • Closed-Box Testing: A closed-box penetration test involves testers without experience with the software.
    • Blind Testing: A blind closed-box test ensures the “hacker” lacks experience with the system.
    • Double-Blind Testing: A double-blind closed box test ensures neither the “hacker” nor the cybersecurity team has experience with the system.
  • Covert Testing: A covert penetration test involves testers trying to penetrate the system without alerting the cybersecurity team.
  • Internal Testing: An internal penetration test involves testers who the business owner actively employs.
  • External Testing: An external penetration test involves freelance testers without commitment to the business.
  • Targeted Test: A targeted penetration test involves the testers focusing on a specific part of the network rather than a comprehensive assessment.

Because the systems and software are constantly changing, it is important to run penetration tests regularly. Otherwise, a new vulnerability could arise without your knowledge and expose you to further injection attacks. While penetration tests are important, they are only one aspect of cybersecurity. To enjoy the best network or database security, you must employ a full team of cybersecurity experts who can oversee your system. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to create an in-house cybersecurity team. Thankfully, you do not necessarily need an in-house team.

Technically Speaking…

XOR-based SQL injections are one of several injection attacks that can devastate an application or database. Despite being part of a type of digital threat, these injections remain one of the most dangerous and frustrating cyber-attacks in modern society. While the success of these attacks relies on an existing vulnerability, these gaps in your firewall can be more common than you realize. Every time we update an operating system or introduce a new line of code, we risk opening a wound that injection attacks can exploit. That is why finding a capable cybersecurity team is essential to anyone using a database to store sensitive information.

Cybersecurity Professional Securing Data

We at U.S. Cybersecurity recognize the necessity of stable security measures. Whether you need to update your firewalls, overhaul your response plan, or perform penetration tests, we are staffed with professionals capable of all the major cybersecurity services. Cybercriminals show no quarter to their victims and will launch an attack without remorse. We urge you to visit our website and let us help secure your network before their attack can do lasting damage. We are standing by and ready to assist you.

Herman

Herman McCargo is a Cyber Defense Analyst here at U.S. Cybersecurity. He’s been in the technology field for over 20 years and has expertise working with the most critical technology infrastructures. He has a deep understanding of cyber risks, threat mitigation and prevention, and overseeing infrastructure.