Category Archives: Security


I’ve come across a class in the System.Security namespace that is often overlooked. The class is SecureString. In this post, I will go over what SecureString is and why it is needed.

Have you ever come across these scenarios before?

  • A password appears in a log file accidentally.
  • A password is being shown at somewhere – once a GUI did show a command line of application that was being run, and the command line consisted of the password.
  • Using memory profiler to profile software with your colleague. Colleague sees your password in memory.
  • Using RedGate software that could capture the “value” of local variables in case of exceptions, amazingly useful. Though, I can imagine that it will log “string passwords” accidentally.
  • A crash dump that includes string password.

Do you know how to avoid all these problems? SecureString. It makes sure you don’t make silly mistakes as such. How does it avoid it? By making sure that password is encrypted in unmanaged memory and the real value can be only accessed when you are 90% sure what you’re doing.

In the sense, SecureString works pretty easily:

  1. Everything is encrypted
  2. User calls AppendChar
  3. Decrypt everything in UNMANAGED MEMORY and add the character
  4. Encrypt everything again in UNMANAGED MEMORY.

What if the user has access to your computer? Would a virus be able to get access to all the SecureStrings? Yes. All you need to do is hook yourself into RtlEncryptMemory then decrypt the memory, and you will get the location of the unencrypted memory address, and read it out. Voila! In fact, you could make a virus that will continuously scan for usage of SecureString and log all the activities with it. I am not saying it will be an easy task, but it can be done. As you can see, the “powerfulness” of SecureString is completely gone once there’s a user/virus on your system.

You have few points in your post. Sure, if you use some of the UI controls that hold “string password” internally, using actual SecureString is not that useful.

The bottom line is; if you have sensitive data(passwords, credit cards, ..), use SecureString. This is what C# Framework is following. For example, NetworkCredential class stores password as SecureString. If you look this, you can see over ~80 different usages in .NET framework of SecureString.

There are many cases when you have to convert SecureString to string because some API expects it.

The usual problem is either:

  • The API is GENERIC. It does not know that there’s a sensitive data.
  • The API knows that it’s dealing with sensitive data and uses “string” – that’s just bad design.

You raised a good point: what happens when you convert SecureString to a string? That can only happen because of the first point. Eg the API does not know that it’s sensitive data. I have personally not seen that happening. Getting string out of SecureString is not that simple.

It’s not simple for a simple reason; it was never intended to let the user convert SecureString to string, as you stated: GC will kick in. If you see yourself doing that, you need to step back and ask yourself: Why am I even doing this, or do I need this, why?

You can always extend the SecureString class with an extension method, such as ToEncryptedString(__SERVER__PUBLIC_KEY), which gives you a string instance of SecureString that is encrypted using server’s public key. The only server can then decrypt it. Problem solved, GC will never see the “original” string, as you never expose it in managed memory. This is precisely what is being done in PSRemotingCryptoHelper (EncryptSecureStringCore(SecureString secureString)).

And as something very almost-related: Mono SecureString does not encrypt at all. The implementation has been commented out because ..wait for it. “It somehow causes nunit test breakage”, which brings to my last point:

Not supported everywhere is SecureString. If the platform/architecture does not support SecureString, you’ll get an exception. The recommended list of deployment platforms is documentation.

Using SecureString for Sensitive Data

The standard System.String class has never been a very secure solution for storing sensitive strings such as passwords or credit card numbers. Using a string for this purposes has numerous problems including it’s not pinned, so the garbage collector can move it around and will leave several copies in memory, it’s not encrypted, so anyone who can read your processor’s memory will be able to see the values of the string easily. Also, if your process gets swapped out to disk, the unencrypted contents of the string will be sitting in your swap file. And it’s not mutable, so whenever you need to modify it there will be an old version and the new version both in memory.

Since it’s not mutable, there’s no effective way to clear it out when you’re done using it. Secure strings are held in encrypted memory by the CLR using the Data Protection API, or DPAPI, and they’re only unencrypted when they are accessed. ┬áThis limits the amount of time that your string is in plain text for an attacker to see.

The garbage collector will not move the encrypted string around in memory, so you never have to worry about multiple copies of your string sitting in your address space, unless you make copies of those.

SecureString also implements IDisposable, and when it’s disposed of or finalised if you forget to dispose of it, the memory that was used to hold your encrypted string will be zeroed out.

They also provide a feature that lets you lock them down as read only preventing other code from modifying your string.

You can create a secure string with a pointer to a character array and a length of that array. When constructed this way, the secure string will make a copy of your array, allowing you to zero out your insecure copy.

A secure string can also be constructed without an existing character array, and the data can be copied in one character at a time.

One important thing to note though is that SecureString shouldn’t be used as a blanket replacement for System.String, it should only be used in places where you need to store sensitive information that you do not want to spread around in memory for longer than is required.

To add data or modify data in your string, standard operations are provided. For instance, you’ll find an AppendChar, InsertAt, RemoveAt, and SetAt methods. MakeReadOnly and IsReadOnly allows you to lock down the secure string. Clear, Dispose, and the finaliser takes care of removing any trace of the safe string from memory.

The main idea with SecureString is that you would never store a password or other textual secret in plain text. Unfortunately, SecureString was introduced into the framework only after plenty of APIs were built and shipped using passwords stored in a string, such as the System.Net.NetworkCredential. So any application that must use these APIs had no option but to convert secure strings to strings.

However, the SecureString class itself doesn’t provide any method to get back a plain string with its content, precisely to discourage this type of usage. What a developer has to do is use functions from the System.Runtime.InteropServices.Marshal to get a native buffer with the plain string, marshal a value into managed string, and then very importantly free the native buffer. The best implementation to get a string out of a secure string is to use a try/finally block to free the native buffer.

Here is a sample application showing how you can use SecureString, please remember in production do not use the SecureString to String as this just does not make sense and would make it insecure.


Here is a short method to convert a string to a SecureString

public static SecureString ToSecureString(this string source)
 if (string.IsNullOrWhiteSpace(source))
 return null;
 SecureString result = new SecureString();
 foreach (char c in source.ToCharArray())
 return result;

Visual Studio Team Services Security

Using Azure can open up a can of worm around security and many customers have many concerns

Microsoft do a lot of things to keep your Team Service project safe and secure, refer to this link for details: Visual Studio Team Services Data Protection Overview.

You can deploy your own build agent which you can have full control and easy to configure your machines to only accept the deployment from that build agent.

Another URL link I found from Microsoft Virtual Learning which might be useful:

Getting Started with Azure Security for the IT Professional

Do IT security concerns keep you up at night? You’re not alone! Many IT Pros want to extend their organization’s infrastructure but need reassurance about security. Whether you are researching a hybrid or a public cloud model with Microsoft Azure, the question remains the same: Does the solution meet your own personal and your organization’s bar for security, including industry standards, attestations, and ISO certifications? In this demo-filled course, explore these and other hot topics, as a team of security experts and Azure engineers takes you beyond the basic certifications and explores what’s possible inside Azure. See how to design and use various technologies to ensure that you have the security and architecture you need to successfully launch your projects in the cloud. Dive into datacenter operations, virtual machine (VM) configuration, network architecture, and storage infrastructure. Get the information and the confidence you need, from the pros who know, as they demystify security in the cloud.

This article is very useful is you need to deploy from a remote server

Configuring on-premises Build server for Visual Studio Online

Azure Security Center

It is important that when using Azure that you take security very seriously, I’ve been looking around to see if I can get together as much information as I can to help businesses protect the environments that they relay on so much to run their businesses.

I found these short introductions to Azure Security Center which are worth looking over:

Introduction to Azure Security Center

A brief overview of how Azure Security Center helps you protect, detect and respond to cybersecurity threats.

Azure Security Center Overview

With Azure Security Center, you get a central view of the security state of all of your Azure resources. At a glance, verify that the appropriate security controls are in place and configured correctly. Scott talks to Sara Fender who explains it all!

Azure Security Center – Threat Detection

With Azure Security Center, you get a central view of the security state of all of your Azure resources. At a glance, verify that the appropriate security controls are in place and configured correctly. Scott talks to Sarah Fender who explains how Security Center integrates Threat Detection.

Azure Security Center – Focus on Prevention

Staying ahead of current and emerging threats requires an integrated, analytics-driven approach. By combining Microsoft global threat intelligence and expertise with insights into security-related events across your Azure deployments, Security Center helps you detect actual threats early, and it reduces false positives. Scott talks to Sara Fender who breaks down the details.

The way to handle unauthorised requests to Ajax actions in ASP.NET MVC


I have created a view that posts to an action via Ajax with the expectation that the action will return the requested data or an empty string.  Even better, I would like it to be configurable to return whatever value I see fit.

The problem arises when I decorate the called action with the [Authorize] attribute.  If the request is not authorized and I have a loginUrl configured in my web.config, my ajax request will return the html output of my loginUrl view.  That is undesirable.


I can extend the existing Authorize attribute by inheriting from the AuthorizeAttribute class.  Here is the code that extends the Authorize attribute:

public class AjaxAuthorizeOverrideAttribute : AuthorizeAttribute
        public string View { get; set; }

        protected override void HandleUnauthorizedRequest(AuthorizationContext filterContext)
            if (!filterContext.HttpContext.Request.IsAjaxRequest())

            filterContext.Result = new ViewResult { ViewName = View };

Here is the decorator for the ajax action in the controller class:


public ActionResult AjaxRequest()
     return View();

Note: there is no default view page being rendered.


Original article can be found here

Cross Site Attacks – XSS

Cross Site Attacks (XSS) what is that all about?
“Cross-site scripting (XSS) is a type of computer security vulnerability typically found in Web applications. XSS enables attackers to inject client-side script into Web pages viewed by other users. A cross-site scripting vulnerability may be used by attackers to bypass access controls such as the same origin policy. Cross-site scripting carried out on websites accounted for roughly 84% of all security vulnerabilities documented by Symantec as of 2007. Their effect may range from a petty nuisance to a significant security risk, depending on the sensitivity of the data handled by the vulnerable site and the nature of any security mitigation implemented by the site’s owner.”
All user’s inputs can be a back door for attacker to attack your site. User’s inputs that we will categorize as un-trusted inputs are :
  • Incoming URLs including Request.QueryString[] values
  • Form post data (Request.Form[] values including values from hidden fields and disabled fields)
  • Cookies
  • Data in HTTP Headers (such as Request.UserAgent and Request.UrlReferrer).
Your site could be attacked by altering the query string, form values, or cookies data. The solution is not to prevent request manipulation but to check that each request is a legal request for the logged-in visitor.

Cross-Site Scripting and HTML Injection

If an attacker can get our site to return some javascript to our visitors, then the attacker’s script can take control of our visitors’ browsing session and by this the attackers can collect the personal information (passwords, credit card details) of our visitors. There are two main ways an attacker follow to get this:

  1. Persistently:  by entering formed malicious input into some feature and hoping we will store it into our database and then issue it back to other visitors.
  2. Non-persistently or Passively : by finding a way of sending malicious data in a request to our application and having our application echo that data back in it is response. The attacker then finds a way to trick a victim into making such a request.

Razor HTML Encoding

The Razor view engine helps protect us against XSS attacks by encoding any data that we refer to using the @ tag to make it safe to display as HTML. This means when we request an URL with a javascript code as a query string, Razor processes the query string value and replaces the special characters and rendering javascript code as a simple text.

Razor view engine treats the contents of MvcHtmlString objects as if they were encoded, even when that is not the case. We can use Html.Raw helper method to include our HTML into the web page without it being encoded.

Request Validation

The goal of request validation is to stop potentially dangerous data ever reaching the application. If the user tries to submit data that looks like it might be HTML, Then ASP.Net throws an exception. This happens before the request is passed to the MVC Framework, so our application never receives the data the user has sent. But the problem with Request Validation is that it rejects any data even slightly resembling an HTML tag, and this can include valid data.

In ASP.Net MVC Framework, request validation is enabled by default. You can disable it by decorate your controller/action method by ValidateInput attribute and passing false to it. If you decorate the controller with it, that means you enabled/disabled request validation for all action methods within this controller (of course not recommended). If you decorate the action method by that attribute, that means you enabled/disabled request validation for all posted data/model properties. Also you can disable request validation for a specific property by decorate it with AllowHtml attribute.

JavaScript String Encoding and XSS

So what if we want to accept javascript code from the user, i.e post a question on stackoverflow. of course we don’t want to refuse it or disable request validation totally. Fortunately, the Ajax helper class has method called JavaScriptStringEncode, which encodes a string so that it safe to display and escapes characters so that JavaScript will understand it. In such case we have to use Html.Raw method around the result generated by the Ajax helper method. If we don’t do this, then Razor HTML encodes the result, and we are back where we started. Session Hijacking:
ASP.Net identifies users by session ID cookie which called ASP.Net_SessionId by default, and if we use Forms Authentication, then a second cookie is used called /AUTH. If an attacker can obtain these cookies, then they can include them in a request to our server and impersonate one of our users. The browser by default preventing the javascript from a site to access cookies of another site. But if the attacker has been able to inject a script into one of our pages, then the browser believes that the script is part of our application and grands access to the session cookies.

We can protect our site by keeping a record of each client IP address when a session starts, we can deny any requests that originate from a different IP. But you should avoid this technique when you deal with the public internet.

We can mark a cookie with the HttpOnly flag, and the browser will hide its existence from javascript but will continue to send it via all HTTP requests. By default ASP.Net marks ASP.Net_SessionId and /AUTH as HttpOnly. Of course you can apply HttpOnly to your session cookies when you create them.

Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF):

To save me repeating myself talk a look at this post Preventing Cross Site Request Forgery

Build your MVC application securely

  1. Don’t write any public method inside a controller class that will not be an action method. By default any public method is an action method, other methods should be wrote in model section. If you have to write a method that will not be an action, make sure it will be private or make it public but you must decorate it with NonAction attribute.
  2. Prevent  Model Binding to change sensitive data by using Bind attribute to set up white/black list that restrict which properties model binding is allowed/not allowed to populate.

Preventing Cross Site Request Forgery

What is Cross Site Request Forgery (CSRF)?

“A CSRF attack forces a logged-on victim’s browser to send a pre-authenticated request to a vulnerable web application, which then forces the victim’s browser to perform a hostile action to the benefit of the attacker. CSRF can be as powerful as the web application that it attacks.”

Cross-site scripting (XSS) is widely regarded as one of the most used security issue on the web. Few developers pay much attention to another form of attack that’s equally destructive and potentially far easier to exploit. Your application can be vulnerable to cross-site request forgery (CSRF) attacks not because you the developer did something wrong (as in, failing to encode outputs leads to XSS), but simply because of how the whole Web is designed to work.

How CSRF works

All web application platforms are potentially vulnerable to CSRF, but in this post we’ll focus on ASP.NET MVC. Imagine you have a controller class as follows:

public class UserProfileController : Controller
    public ViewResult Edit() { return View(); }
    public ViewResult SubmitUpdate()
        // Get the user's existing profile data (implementation omitted)
        ProfileData profile = GetLoggedInUserProfile();
        // Update the user object
        profile.EmailAddress = Request.Form["email"];
        profile.FavoriteHobby = Request.Form["hobby"];
        ViewData["message"] = "Your profile was updated.";
        return View();

This is all very normal. First, the visitor goes to Edit(), which renders some form to let them change their user profile details. Secondly, they post that form to SubmitUpdate(), which saves the changes to their profile record in the database. There’s no XSS vulnerability here. Everything’s fine, right? We implement this sort of thing all the time…

Unfortunately, this innocent controller is an easy target for CSRF. Imagine that an attacker sets up the following HTML page and hosts it on some server of their own:

<body onload="document.getElementById('fm1').submit()">
    <form id="fm1" action="http://yoursite/UserProfile/SubmitUpdate" method="post">
        <input name="email" value="hacker@somewhere.evil" />
        <input name="hobby" value="Defacing websites" />

Next, they somehow persuade a victim to visit this page. When this HTML page loads, it submits a valid form post to /UserProfile/SubmitUpdate on your server.

Assuming you’re using Windows authentication or some kind of cookie-based authentication system such as Forms Authentication, the automated form post will be processed within the victim’s established authentication context, and will successfully update the victim’s email address to something under the attacker’s control. All the attacker has to do now is use your “forgotten password” facility, and they’re taken control of the victim’s account.

Of course, instead of changing an victim’s email address, they can perform any action that the victim can perform with a single POST request. For example, they might be able to grant administrative permissions to another account, or post something defamatory to a CMS.

Ways to stop CSRF

There are two main ways to block CSRF:

  • Check that incoming requests have a Referer header referencing your domain. This will stop requests unwittingly submitted from a third-party domain. However, some people disable their browser’s Referer header for privacy reasons, and attackers can sometimes spoof that header if the victim has certain versions of Adobe Flash installed. This is a weak solution.
  • Put a user-specific token as a hidden field in legitimate forms, and check that the right value was submitted. If, for example, this token is the user’s password, then a third-party can’t forge a valid form post, because they don’t know each user’s password. However, don’t expose the user’s password this way: Instead, it’s better to use some random value (such as a GUID) which you’ve stored in the visitor’s Session collection or into a Cookie.

Using the AntiForgeryToken helpers

The core ASP.NET MVC package includes a set of helpers that give you a means to detect and block CSRF using the “user-specific tokens” technique.

To use these helpers to protect a particular form, put an Html.AntiForgeryToken() into the form, e.g.,

@using(Html.Form("UserProfile", "SubmitUpdate")) 
    <!-- rest of form goes here -->

This will output something like the following:

<form action="/UserProfile/SubmitUpdate" method="post">
    <input name="__RequestVerificationToken" type="hidden" value="saTFWpkKN0BYazFtN6c4YbZAmsEwG0srqlUqqloi/fVgeV2ciIFVmelvzwRZpArs" />
    <!-- rest of form goes here -->

At the same time, Html.AntiForgeryToken() will give the visitor a cookie called __RequestVerificationToken, with the same value as the random hidden value shown above.

Next, to validate an incoming form post, add the [ValidateAntiForgeryToken] filter to your target action method. For example,

public ViewResult SubmitUpdate()
    // ... etc

This is an authorization filter that checks that:

  • The incoming request has a cookie called __RequestVerificationToken
  • The incoming request has a Request.Form entry called __RequestVerificationToken
  • These cookie and Request.Form values match

Assuming all is well, the request goes through as normal. But if not, boom!, there’s an authorization failure with message “A required anti-forgery token was not supplied or was invalid”.

This prevents CSRF because even if a potential victim has an __RequestVerificationToken cookie, an attacker can’t find out its value, so they can’t forge a valid form post with the same value in Request.Form. But legitimate users aren’t inconvenienced at all; the mechanism is totally silent

Anti-CSRF and AJAX

The simple solution for adding AJAX Cross-Site request forgery is to add the Request Verification Token to the data

function CallAjax() {
    var data = { "ajaxparameter ": 'hello moon' };
    data.__RequestVerificationToken = $("input[name=__RequestVerificationToken]").val();
        type: "POST",
        url: '@Url.Action("AjaxCall")',
        dataType: "json",
        data: JSON.stringify(data),
        success: function () {
            alert('Ajax call succesful');
    return false;

this can also be done via the $ajaxSetup

    global: true,
    beforeSend: function (xhr, settings) {
        if ( != "") {
   += '&';
        } += '__RequestVerificationToken=' + $("input[name=__RequestVerificationToken]").val();

this then leaves the AJAX call as you would normally find it

function CallAjax() {
    var data = { "ajaxparameter ": 'hello moon' };
        type: "POST",
        url: '@Url.Action("AjaxCall")',
        dataType: "json",
        data: JSON.stringify(data),
        success: function () {
            alert('Ajax call succesful');
    return false;

The form token can be a problem for AJAX requests, because an AJAX request might send JSON data, not HTML form data. One solution is to send the tokens in a custom HTTP header. The following code uses Razor syntax to generate the tokens, and then adds the tokens to an AJAX request.  The tokens are generated at the server by calling AntiForgery.GetTokens.

        public string TokenHeaderValue()
            string cookieToken, formToken;
            AntiForgery.GetTokens(null, out cookieToken, out formToken);
            return cookieToken + ":" + formToken;                

    $.ajax("api/values", {
        type: "post",
        contentType: "application/json",
        data: {  }, // JSON data goes here
        dataType: "json",
        headers: {
            'RequestVerificationToken': '@TokenHeaderValue()'

When you process the request, extract the tokens from the request header. Then call the AntiForgery.Validate method to validate the tokens. The Validate method throws an exception if the tokens are not valid.

void ValidateRequestHeader(HttpRequestMessage request)
    string cookieToken = "";
    string formToken = "";

    IEnumerable<string> tokenHeaders;
    if (request.Headers.TryGetValues("RequestVerificationToken", out tokenHeaders))
        string[] tokens = tokenHeaders.First().Split(':');
        if (tokens.Length == 2)
            cookieToken = tokens[0].Trim();
            formToken = tokens[1].Trim();
    AntiForgery.Validate(cookieToken, formToken);

Using salt

Salt? What? In case you want to protect multiple forms in your application independently of each other, you can use a “salt” value when you call Html.AntiForgeryToken(), e.g.,


… and also in [ValidateAntiForgeryToken], e.g.,

public ViewResult SubmitUpdate()
    // ... etc

Salt is just an arbitrary string. A different salt value means a different anti-forgery token will be generated. This means that even if an attacker manages to get hold of a valid token somehow, they can’t reuse it in other parts of the application where a different salt value is required

Load balancing

Will different web servers in a load balanced configuration create the same token in the HTML forms?

If all machines across the farm share the same <machineKey>, everything will work. There are lots of resources on how to set this. There’s also a tutorial on MSDN.

Note that the name <machineKey> is a bit misleading, since this is actually set per-application in ~/Web.config. So set the <machineKey> explicitly in your app’s Web.config, then deploy across your farm.

Limitations of the Anti-Forgery helpers

ASP.NET MVC’s anti-CSRF helpers work very nicely, but you should be aware of a few limitations:

  • All legitimate visitors must accept cookies (otherwise, [ValidateAntiForgeryToken] will deny their form posts). Arguably this isn’t a limitation, because unless visitors allow cookies, you probably don’t have anything to protect anyway.
  • It only works with POST requests, not GET requests. Arguably this isn’t a limitation, because under the normal HTTP conventions, you shouldn’t be using GET requests for anything other than read-only operations.
  • It’s easily bypassed if you have any XSS holes on your domain. An XSS hole would allow an attacker to read a victim’s anti-forgery token value, then use it to forge valid posts. So, don’t have XSS holes!
  • It relies on the potential victim’s browser implementing cross-domain boundaries solidly. Browsers are supposed to stop foreign domains from reading your app’s response text and cookies, and are supposed to stop foreign domains from writing cookies to your domain. If an attacker manages to find a way around this, they can bypass [ValidateAntiForgeryToken]. Of course that’s not supposed to be possible. For the most part, modern browsers block this line of attack.


The Open Web Application Security Project

The orginal article was produced by Steven Sanderson:
Prevent Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) using ASP.NET MVC’s AntiForgeryToken() helper

Source for this article (3.21 mb)