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XPath Injection, akin to other common injection attacks, specifically targets vulnerabilities within an application’s user input processing system. But what sets XPath Injection apart is its exploitation of XPath queries. The fallout? Unauthorized access to data, sidestepping of authentication measures, and in some instances, remote code execution.

What is XPath?

Essentially, XPath stands for XML Path Language. It’s a language that facilitates the selection of nodes from an XML document. When we dive into the realm of web applications, we often encounter XPath being used to query XML databases or XML files. The peril arises when an attacker manages to control any part of the XPath query that’s transmitted to the server. This control, in essence, is what we term as XPath Injection.

To draw a parallel, SQL Injection specifically targets SQL queries. Similarly, XPath Injection attempts to skew the query to the attacker’s advantage.


A Step-by-Step Example

Let’s consider a web application that uses XPath to authenticate users based on an XML user database.

XML User Database


Vulnerable XPath Query

The application might use an XPath expression like the following to authenticate users:

/users/user[username/text()='<INPUT_USERNAME>' and password/text()='<INPUT_PASSWORD>']

Attack Scenario

  1. Normal Login: A user inputs their username and password, and the application forms the query. E.g., with `jeremy` and `cheesecake`, the query becomes:
/users/user[username/text()='jeremy' and password/text()='cheesecake']
  1. Injection Attack: An attacker inputs `jeremy’ or ‘1’=’1` as the username and leaves the password field blank. The query becomes:
/users/user[username/text()='jeremy' or '1'='1' and password/text()='']

This altered query returns true for any user, allowing the attacker to bypass authentication.

Ways to Detect XPath Injection

Manual Testing

  1. Deciphering Error Messages: By strategically placing special characters like single quotes and subsequently analyzing the resultant error messages, one can pinpoint application vulnerabilities.
  2. Behavior Analysis: Deploying a range of payloads and observing the application’s response can be illuminating.

Automated Testing

  1. Fuzzing: Tools such as FFUF, when combined with prevalent payloads, can aid in detecting XPath injection.
  2. Scanners: A plethora of security tools have the capability to auto-detect XPath Injection loopholes.
  3. Code Review: Both manual and automated static code analysis can spotlight insecure code patterns, flagging potential XPath Injection risks.

Common Payloads

Here’s a list of payloads you may use to test for XPath Injection vulnerabilities:

`' or '1'='1`
`' or ''='`
`'] | //user/*`
`'] | //user/*[contains(text(),'admin')]`

Mitigating XPath Injection

Guarding an application against XPath Injection attacks is paramount. Embracing robust input validation, opting for parameterized XPath queries, enforcing least privilege access, and timely software updates stand out as some of the quintessential best practices.


XPath Injection poses a formidable threat to web applications, particularly when developers overlook the significance of input validation and secure coding. By understanding its mechanics, recognizing its signs, and implementing safeguards, developers can create a robust defense line against potential attackers, ensuring data integrity and user trust.

About TCM Security

TCM Security is a veteran-owned, cybersecurity services and education company founded in Charlotte, NC. Our services division has the mission of protecting people, sensitive data, and systems. With decades of combined experience, thousands of hours of practice, and core values from our time in service, we use our skill set to secure your environment. The TCM Security Academy is an educational platform dedicated to providing affordable, top-notch cybersecurity training to our individual students and corporate clients including both self-paced and instructor-led online courses as well as custom training solutions. We also provide several vendor-agnostic, practical hands-on certification exams to ensure proven job-ready skills to prospective employers.

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