Prevent XSS attacks site-wide

I'm new to ColdFusion, so I'm not sure if there's an easy way to do this. I've been assigned to fix XSS vulnerabilities site-wide on this CF site. Unfortunately, there are tons of pages that are taking user input, and it would be near impossible to go in and modify them all.

Is there a way (in CF or JS) to easily prevent XSS attacks across the entire site?



I hate to break it out to you, but -

  1. XSS is an Output problem, not an Input problem. Filtering/Validating input is an additional layer of defence, but it can never protect you completely from XSS. Take a look at XSS cheatsheet by RSnake - there's just too many ways to escape a filter.
  2. There is no easy way to fix a legacy application. You have to properly encode anything that you put in your html or javascript files, and that does mean revisiting every piece of code that generates html.

See OWASP's XSS prevention cheat sheet for information on how to prevent XSS.

Some comments below suggest that input validation is a better strategy rather than encoding/escaping at the time of output. I'll just quote from OWASP's XSS prevention cheat sheet -

Traditionally, input validation has been the preferred approach for handling untrusted data. However, input validation is not a great solution for injection attacks. First, input validation is typically done when the data is received, before the destination is known. That means that we don't know which characters might be significant in the target interpreter. Second, and possibly even more importantly, applications must allow potentially harmful characters in. For example, should poor Mr. O'Malley be prevented from registering in the database simply because SQL considers ' a special character?

To elaborate - when the user enters a string like O'Malley, you don't know whether you need that string in javascript, or in html or in some other language. If its in javascript, you have to render it as O\x27Malley, and if its in HTML, it should look like O'Malley. Which is why it is recommended that in your database the string should be stored exactly the way the user entered, and then you escape it appropriately according to the final destination of the string.


One thing you should look at is implementing an application firewall like Portcullis: which includes a much stronger system then the built in scriptProtect which is easily defeated.

These are a good starting point for preventing many attacks but for XSS you are going to end up going in by hand and verifying that you are using things like HTMLEditFormat() on any outputs that can be touched by the client side or client data to prevent outputting valid html/js code.


The ColdFusion 9 Livedocs describe a setting called "scriptProtect" which allows you to utilize coldfusion's protection. I've have not used it yet, so I'm not sure how effective it is.

However, if you implement a third-party or your own method of handling it, you would most likely want to put it in the "onRequestStart" event of the application to allow it to handle the entire site when it comes to URL and FORM scope violations (because every request would execute that code).


Besides applying all the ColdFusion hot fixes and patches you can also:

  1. Not full proof but helps, Set the following under CFADMIN > Settings > "Enable Global Script Protection"
  2. Add CSRFToken to your forms
  3. Check http Referer
  4. Add validation for all User inputs
  5. Use cfqueryparam for your queries
  6. Add HTMLEditFormat() on any outputs
  7. Besides Peter Freitag's excellent blog you should also subscribe to Jason Dean's


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