How CSRFGuard Works

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CSRFGuard is a "reference implementation". Developers are encouraged to leverage more tightly integrated solutions for performance (ex: speed of parsing HTML) and technical (ex: AJAX requests) challenges.


The core issue with CSRF attacks is that form submission can be imitated with forged requests. The application must be able to differentiate between legal requests and forged requests. Since all headers, cookies, and credentials will be submitted with both legal and forged requests, the only method of truly verifying the integrity of the request is with a uniquely identifiable token in the form of an HTTP parameter.

OWASP CSRFGuard implements a variant of the synchronizer token pattern to mitigate the risk of CSRF attacks. In order to implement this pattern, CSRFGuard must offer the capability to place the CSRF prevention token within the HTML produced by the protected web application. CSRFGuard 3 provides developers more fine grain control over the injection of the token. Developers can inject the token in their HTML using either dynamic JavaScript DOM manipulation or a JSP tag library. CSRFGuard no longer intercepts and modifies the HttpServletResponse object as was done in previous releases. The currently available token injection strategies are designed to make the integration of CSRFGuard more feasible and scalable within current enterprise web applications. Developers are encouraged to make use of both the JavaScript DOM Manipulation and the JSP tag library strategies for a complete token injection strategy. The JavaScript DOM Manipulation strategy is ideal as it is automated and requires minimal effort on behalf of the developer. In the event the JavaScript solution is insufficient within a particular application context, developers should leverage the JSP tag library. The purpose of this article is to describe the token injection strategies offered by OWASP CSRFGuard 3.

Java EE Filters - Declare and Configure JavaScriptServlet

The JavaScript file used for token injection is dynamically generated by the JavaScriptServlet class using a template file. Ensure that the Owasp.CsrfGuard.jar file is found within the target application's classpath. Copy the Owasp.CsrfGuard.js template file from the OWASP CSRFGuard distribution folder to a non-publicly accessible directory within the target application. For the remainder of this section, we assume the Owasp.CsrfGuard.js template file was placed in the application's WEB-INF folder. Edit the deployment descriptor (web.xml) to declare the JavaScriptServlet class along with any associated initialization parameters. Consider the following configuration snippet taken from the Owasp.CsrfGuard.Test application:


Implementing the CSRF Guard as a Java EE Filter gives us the ability to verify the integrity of the request before it ever hits our web application.

Generating the Unique Request Token: Secure Random

When implementing the CSRF Guard, we must ensure that the unique request token is cryptographically strong. After all, our implementation relies on the principle that the unique token is difficult to guess. If the unique request token can be easily guessed then a CSRF attack can be executed.

The following code snippet generates a BASE64 encoded string of 'size' bytes:

   private String generateCSRFToken(int size) throws NoSuchAlgorithmException {
       SecureRandom sr = null;
       byte[] random = new byte[size];
       BASE64Encoder encoder = new BASE64Encoder();
       sr = SecureRandom.getInstance("SHA1PRNG");
       return encoder.encode(random);


The OWASP CSRF Java EE Filter will attempt to verify the integrity of the request by comparing the unique request token HTTP parameter value with that of the token stored in the session. If the two values do not match, then we assume the request is forged and we invalidate the existing session and redirect the user to an error page. If the parameter value equals the corresponding session attribute value, then we call doChain() and pass the request to the web application. Once the web application is finished processing the request, the filter will search the HTML response for forms and links and insert the appropriate unique token parameter value. Unfortunately, the dependency on an HTML response means that the current filter may not work with some Web 2.0 applications.

Bypass CSRFGuard With Stored XSS

There have been discussions suggesting that the unique request token can be compromised using JavaScript. This attack implies that the application also contains a stored cross-site scripting vulnerability, which is frequently a more severe issue than cross-site request forgery. The first MySpace worm worked in this manner where it used a Cross Site Scripting vulnerability to forge requests to update a user's profile, where the user profile update mechanism was protected with a CSRF defense mechanism similar to what is provided by this filter. If your application contains a stored cross-site scripting vulnerability, then the unique request token can be parsed from the HTML response to successfully forge form submissions.