What's in an Exploit? An Empirical Analysis of Reflected Server XSS Exploitation Techniques


Ahmet Salih Buyukkayhan, Microsoft; Can Gemicioglu, Northeastern University; Tobias Lauinger, New York University; Alina Oprea, William Robertson, and Engin Kirda, Northeastern University


Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) is one of the most prevalent vulnerabilities on the Web. While exploitation techniques are publicly documented, to date there is no study of how frequently each technique is used in the wild. In this paper, we conduct a longitudinal study of 134k reflected server XSS exploits submitted to XSSED and OPENBUGBOUNTY, two vulnerability databases collectively spanning a time period of nearly ten years. We use a combination of static and dynamic analysis techniques to identify the portion of each archived server response that contains the exploit, execute it in a sandboxed analysis environment, and detect the exploitation techniques used. We categorize the exploits based on the exploitation techniques used and generate common exploit patterns. We find that most exploits are relatively simple, but there is a moderate trend of increased sophistication over time. For example, as automated XSS defenses evolve, direct code execution with <script> is declining in favour of indirect execution triggered by event handlers in conjunction with other tags, such as <svg onload. We release our annotated data, enabling researchers to create diverse exploit samples for model training or system evaluation.

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@inproceedings {259695,
author = {Ahmet Salih Buyukkayhan and Can Gemicioglu and Tobias Lauinger and Alina Oprea and William Robertson and Engin Kirda},
title = {What{\textquoteright}s in an Exploit? An Empirical Analysis of Reflected Server {XSS} Exploitation Techniques},
booktitle = {23rd International Symposium on Research in Attacks, Intrusions and Defenses (RAID 2020)},
year = {2020},
isbn = {978-1-939133-18-2},
address = {San Sebastian},
pages = {107--120},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/raid2020/presentation/buyukkayhan},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = oct