As a Java Architect at Sun Microsystems, Carol McDonald has spoken at various conferences including JavaOne, Java University, Sun Tech Days, Sun Network, Sun Code Camps, JDJEdge, and JUGs including Machester, Boston, Maine, Cologne, FAA, Richmond, Memphis, D.C... Carol blogs about the latest technologies that she is speaking about at Before returning to Sun in 2007, Carol worked 2 1/2 yrs as an Architect on massive OLTP Spring/hibernate application to manage > 10 mill loans for the consumer credit division of a leading automoblile manufacturer and a leading bank. Before joining Sun the first time in 1999 Carol worked on Pharmaceutical Intranet applications for Roche in Switzerland, a Telecom Network Management Application for Digital (now HP) in France, a X.400 Email Server for IBM in Germany, and as a student intern for the National Security Agency. Carol holds a M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Tennessee, a B.S. in Geology from Vanderbilt University, and is a Sun Certified Java Architect and Java Language Programmer. Carol is also Fluent in French and German. Carol has posted 11 posts at DZone. View Full User Profile

OWASP Top 10 number 3: Malicious File Execution

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The Top 10 Web Application security vulnerabilities Number 3 in the Top 10 most critical web application security vulnerabilities identified by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) is Malicious File Execution, which occurs when attacker's files are executed or processed by the web server. This can happen when an input filename is compromised or an uploaded file is improperly trusted.


  • file is accepted from the user without validating content
  • filename is accepted from the user

In the example below a file name is accepted from the user and appended to the server's filesystem path.

// get the absolute file path on the server's filesystem 
String dir = servlet.getServletContext().getRealPath("/ebanking")
// get input file name
String file = request.getParameter(“file”);
// Create a new File instance from pathname string
File f = new File((dir + "\\" + file).replaceAll("\\\\", "/"));  
If the filename was compromised to  ../../web.xml , it might allow access to web server properties

Malicious File Execution can result in:
  • files loaded from another server and executed within the context of the web server
  • modifying paths to gain access to directories on the web server
  • malicious scripts put into a directory with inadequate access controls

Protecting against Malicious File Execution

  • the Java EE Security Manager should be properly configured to not allow access to files outside the web root.
  • do not allow user input to influence the path name for server resources
    • Inspect code containing a file open, include, create, delete...
  • firewall rules should prevent new outbound connections to external web sites or internally back to any other server. Or isolate the web server in a private subnet
  • Upload files to a destination outside of the web application directory.
    • Enable virus scan on the destination directory.

Java specific Protecting against Malicious File Exection

Use the OWASP ESAPI  HTTPUtilities interface:
  • The ESAPI HTTPUtilities interface is a collection of methods that provide additional security related to HTTP requests, responses, sessions, cookies, headers, and logging.

    The HTTPUtilities getSafeFileUploads method uses the Apache Commons FileUploader to parse the multipart HTTP request and extract any files therein

    public class HTTPUtilities 

    public void getSafeFileUploads( tempDir, finalDir)
    throws ValidationException

References and More Information:

Published at DZone with permission of its author, Carol Mcdonald.

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