sQL injection is a type of covert cyberattack in which a hacker inserts their own code into a website in order to break security measures and access protected data. Once inside, it can control the website’s database and hijack users’ information. We explain how SQL injection attacks work, how to combat them, and how a powerful antivirus tool can protect you against the consequences
What is SQL injection? And what is SQL?
Before we start talking about injection, let’s first clarify what SQL means. Developed in the 1970s, SQL is a Structured Query Language that has become the standard language for database management . When a website needs to access the database it has on its server to look up or edit information, it uses SQL to process that “query” or request.
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SQL is a broad and flexible language that offers database designers endless possibilities. Almost all designers create databases with their own set of SQL rules, those that best suit their particular needs. You can’t just copy and paste SQL from one database to another, since each might have been created in a totally different way.
And where does the injection part come in?
If a web developer isn’t meticulous, creating a site could leave a loophole that someone with malicious intent could use to have unexpected effects on your database. SQL injections (or SQLI) occur when a hacker inserts or injects malicious SQL code, a type of malware known as a payload , into your website and surreptitiously gets you to send that code to your database as if it was a legitimate query.
Hackers use SQL injection attacks in order to break into a website’s database. Sometimes they just want to delete data to cause chaos, and other times they just want to edit the database, especially for financial websites.
SQL injection attacks are only viable when a website lacks proper input sanitization: the process that ensures that information entered by end users cannot slip through any loopholes and function as executable code on the server. This requires more work on the part of the developer, but ultimately protects against SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and other kinds of website attacks.
What effect do SQL injection attacks have?
Hackers use SQL injection attacks in order to break into a website’s database. Sometimes they just want to delete data to cause chaos, and other times they just want to edit the database, especially for financial websites. By the time the hacker has gained control of the database, it’s easy to interfere with customer account balances and send money to their own account.
However, often what the cybercriminal wants is user data saved on the website , such as login credentials. These stolen login details can then be used to perform actions on behalf of affected users or compiled into a large list that will then be sold to other cybercriminals on the dark web . People who buy stolen information often do so for the purpose of identity theft and fraud.
How does a SQL injection attack occur?
If a website doesn’t take the proper steps to sanitize data entry , a hacker can inject whatever SQL they want. In this way, the website sends the hacker’s code, the payload, to its server. When it reaches the website’s database, located on your server, the hacker’s payload goes into action and interferes with the database so that the hacker can accomplish their goals.
Hackers use SQL injection attacks in order to break into a website’s database.
This is how SQL is injected – don’t try it at home!
SQL injection using user input
SQL injection using user input is the easiest way to carry out a SQL injection attack. There are plenty of websites that collect user input and transmit it to the server. This means that if you place an order online and enter your address, this data is collected. And the same thing happens in a comments or user reviews section. Without secure input sanitization, a form with fillable fields or a comment box is a blatant SQL injection vulnerability.
Instead of filling out these forms with normal content and responses, SQL injection hackers do something very different: enter a script of SQL code. When a website with poor input sanitation submits the form content to your server, the hacker’s code is executed. This is how hackers use SQLI to steal user data or disrupt the operation of a website.
Let’s see it with a real example: a situation in which a person is going to apply for a job. The name of the candidate is Juan González, but on the application he writes «Hire Juan González». When the hiring manager reads the candidate’s name out loud, the HR team. H H. He hears him say “Hire Juan Gonzalez,” so they send Juan a formal job offer.
Instead of giving his real name, Juan has sent an SQL payload that, when executed by the database (the hiring manager), gets Juan the job.