SQL Injection UNION Attacks in Web App Pentesting | 2023
When an application is vulnerable to SQL injection, and the results of the query are returned within the application’s responses, you can use the UNION keyword to retrieve data from other tables within the database. This is commonly known as a SQL injection UNION attack | Karthikeyan Nagaraj
SQL injection UNION attacks
When an application is vulnerable to SQL injection, and the results of the query are returned within the application’s responses, you can use the
UNION keyword to retrieve data from other tables within the database. This is commonly known as a SQL injection UNION attack.
UNION keyword enables you to execute one or more additional
SELECT queries and append the results to the original query. For example:
SELECT a, b FROM table1 UNION SELECT c, d FROM table2
This SQL query returns a single result set with two columns, containing values from columns
table1 and columns
UNION query to work, two key requirements must be met:
- The individual queries must return the same number of columns.
- The data types in each column must be compatible between the individual queries.
To carry out a SQL injection UNION attack, make sure that your attack meets these two requirements. This normally involves finding out:
- How many columns are being returned from the original query.
- Which columns returned from the original query are of a suitable data type to hold the results from the injected query.
Determining the number of columns required
- When you perform a SQL injection UNION attack, there are two effective methods to determine how many columns are being returned from the original query.
- One method involves injecting a series of
ORDER BYclauses and incrementing the specified column index until an error occurs.
- For example, if the injection point is a quoted string within the
WHEREclause of the original query, you would submit:
' ORDER BY 1-- ' ORDER BY 2-- ' ORDER BY 3-- etc.
- This series of payloads modifies the original query to order the results by different columns in the result set.
- The column in an
ORDER BYclause can be specified by its index, so you don't need to know the names of any columns.
- When the specified column index exceeds the number of actual columns in the result set, the database returns an error, such as:
The ORDER BY position number 3 is out of range of the number of items in the select list.
The application might actually return the database error in its HTTP response, but it may also issue a generic error response. In other cases, it may simply return no results at all. Either way, as long as you can detect some difference in the response, you can infer how many columns are being returned from the query.
2. The second method involves submitting a series of
UNION SELECT payloads specifying a different number of null values:
' UNION SELECT NULL-- ' UNION SELECT NULL,NULL-- ' UNION SELECT NULL,NULL,NULL-- etc.
If the number of nulls does not match the number of columns, the database returns an error, such as:
All queries combined using a UNION, INTERSECT or EXCEPT operator must have an equal number of expressions in their target lists.
- We use
NULLas the values returned from the injected
SELECTquery because the data types in each column must be compatible between the original and the injected queries.
NULLis convertible to every common data type, so it maximizes the chance that the payload will succeed when the column count is correct.
- As with the
ORDER BYtechnique, the application might actually return the database error in its HTTP response, but may return a generic error or simply return no results.
- When the number of nulls matches the number of columns, the database returns an additional row in the result set, containing null values in each column.
- The effect on the HTTP response depends on the application's code. If you are lucky, you will see some additional content within the response, such as an extra row on an HTML table.
- Otherwise, the null values might trigger a different error, such as a
NullPointerException. In the worst case, the response might look the same as a response caused by an incorrect number of nulls. This would make this method ineffective.