Learning-Based Approach to the Detection of SQL Attacks

By | March 9, 2006

Web-based systems are often a composition of infrastructure components, such as web servers and databases, and of application specific code, such as HTML-embedded scripts and server-side applications. While the infrastructure components are usually developed by experienced programmers with solid security skills, the application-specific code is often developed under strict time constraints by programmers with little security training.

As a result, vulnerable web-applications are deployed and made available to the Internet at large, creating easily- exploitable entry points for the compromise of entire networks. Web-based applications often rely on back-end database servers to manage application-specific persistent state. The data is usually extracted by performing queries that are assembled using input provided by the users of the applications. If user input is not sanitized correctly, it is possible to mount a variety of attacks that leverage web-based applications to compromise the security of back-end databases.

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to identify these attacks using signature-based intrusion detection systems, because of the ad hoc nature of many web-based applications. Signatures are rarely written for this class of applications due to the substantial investment of time and expertise this would require.

We have developed an anomaly-based system that learns the profiles of the normal database access performed by web-based applications using a number of different models. These models allow for the detection of unknown attacks with reduced false positives and limited overhead. In addition, our solution represents an improvement with respect to previous approaches because it reduces the possibility of executing SQL-based mimicry attacks.

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