CSRF vs XSS (Differences, protect against threats attacks)

I learnt hackers use multiple ways to get information from website users and by using cross site scripting (XSS) attacks and Cross Site Request Forgery (CSRF) attacks are two popular ways. Website owners need to protect their websites from these types of attacks ensuring their users don’t get duped into carrying out the hackers malicious activities.

So, what is the difference between XSS and CSRF? Cross Site Scripting (XSS) attacks involves hackers injecting malicious JavaScript code into websites which users mistakenly run. Whilst Cross Site Request Forgery (CSRF) allows actions to be performed on a website without user knowing about them.

When I review websites for cybersecurity, I find those websites with poor XSS protection will always make the users of these websites vulnerable to XSS attacks, as the hackers malicious JavaScript code will be easily included in the components of the website.

I always use the British Airways card skimming attack as real world example, where in 2018 this attack involved XSS where hackers managed to get access to the third party JavaScript libraries. They modified these third party JavaScript libraries to send a copy of the credit card details and other personal information entered onto the British Airways website to the hackers site.

By failing to ensure the third party libraries weren’t manipulated or by copying the JavaScript libraries locally and using them after they had been vulnerability scanned, British Airways customers had their credit card details stolen.    

With a CSRF attack, hackers can do things whilst a website user is connected to a website, so if for example the user is doing their online banking and is logged on to their bank. A CSRF attack could run in the background and move money from the users bank account into one operated by a hacker. The online bank user would be unaware of this happening until they were alerted or so saw the change in their bank balance.

Fortunately, I know most of the banks have very strong CSRF protection measures in place and this makes it very difficult, indeed impossible to mount this type of attack. Read on to find out more about CSRF and XSS.   

What Is a CSRF Token?

Users visit websites daily and use their browsers when searching for information on the internet. Hackers and infiltrators understand that they can easily dupe these millions of users, especially first-time visitors. They deploy methods such as CSRF to push their agenda.

So, what is a CSRF Token? A cross-site reference forgery token (CSRF) is unique to each user and steps in to protect individuals against attacks. They are unpredictable digits from the server handed to the user to act upon an HTTP request.

If the clients log in a correct value, the system allows entry but otherwise locks them out if the value is incorrect or missing. This method creates a wall for the hacker since an unauthorized user cannot create a valid HTTP request to send to the victim.

In the coming sections, we explain the CSRF tokens and how they help prevent CSRF and more related information. Read on to find out how to keep safe in your daily internet use.

How Does CSRF Token Prevent CSRF?

CSRF is a devious attack where the hacker manipulates the victim into gaining permissions to conduct activities on the internet. The more permissions the individual has, the stronger the infiltration impact. Therefore, systems need an elaborate structure where the websites only give access to the legitimate site users.

The server generates unique tokens ensuring that only the legitimate individual can log into the system. Given that the attackers cannot accurately predict the CSRF token without the required parameters, they are completely locked out.

Only the server can create the unique and correct HTTP request for which the user should provide the token. If the infiltrator fails to give a token or provides an inaccurate value, the system terminates the session or detects a CSRF attack and aborts the request.

It is the server that creates the CSRF token. They can be available upon request or for each user session. In most cases, the token-per-request system is safer than value generation for each session because there is little time for the attacker to steal the values.

The only downside with the token-per-request system is that it is not user-friendly. For instance, if the client clicks the back button, the system will request a token that will have likely expired by the time of reset. If the user keeps trying to log onto the page and fails several times, the system will alert about a false positive threat.

On the contrary, the token for each session system favors the users since they enter the same value for each request as long as they are on the site. It will only require a new input if the session expires. The best and most secure tokens must be unique, secret, and impossible to predict. Most tokens are usually large and randomly generated to limit the chances of malicious users guessing or generating them. 

CSRF Vs. XSRF: What’s the Difference?

Hackers have a field day when they can locate vulnerabilities in an application. It means that they can access users’ private information or manipulate the entire website if the victim is an admin. They will deploy any means necessary to succeed, such as the use of CSRF or XSRF.

CSRF and XSRF are terms that you can use interchangeably to refer to Cross-Site Request Forgery. It is an attack where intruders manipulate the website into believing that they are the actual users.

As a result, a hacker can conduct activities as the intended user would, including adjusting firewalls, posting implicating information, or committing fraud and using the victim’s financial details. Unfortunately, you as a user would never know when or how the incident happened and, in most cases, only find out when it’s too late to salvage the situation.

You can abbreviate Cross-Site Request Forgery as CSRF or XSRF. Others pronounce it as “sea-surf” or “X-surf”, while others recognize it as session riding or one-click attack. The attack intends to manipulate a website while posing as the actual user.

Hackers know that sites trust the user and would provide any information upon request. They capitalize on this weakness to carry out crimes, and the application user and the client would never know what is happening. Some people confuse XSRF with XSS.

XSS (Cross-Site Scripting) is an attack that manipulates the trust the user has for the website, while CSRF manipulates the website’s faith towards the user. In the latter, the hacker exploits the clients by making them conduct activities that they didn’t intend. For XSS, the user believes that the website is making the request when the hacker asks for the details. An XSS attack makes the client doubt the website, while a CSRF makes the website question the actual user.

Can CSRF Token Be Stolen?

There are numerous web vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. If you know about the severity of the crime, you would understand how essential it is to secure your devices and sensitive data. The CSRF token is a well-known aspect of cybersecurity for which some users are skeptical about its confidentiality.

It is quite a task to steal a CSRF token. Only a determined and tech-savvy attacker can crack it, and, even so, it may take a while. The best hackers can outsmart the system, but it isn’t commonplace. These secret codes are server-application-generated, and the system sends them to you.

Consequently, the website will match the token to other subsequent actions. The site will not allow the action if the initial request is missing. For the hacker to access the client’s session, they must generate a legitimate HTTP for which the application will accept. However, since the men-in-the-middle can’t predict the user’s CSRF token values, they will find it difficult to develop valid requests.

Unfortunately, suppose clients don’t protect their sites from vulnerabilities such as Cross-Site Scripting attacks (CSS). In that case, the hackers can create an avenue to invade activities by injecting malicious JavaScript into the website.

On the other hand, for a CSRF attack to occur, the user must have been actively on session in the particular website; otherwise, the hacker cannot exploit the client’s devices or data. Besides using tokens to guard your data, it’s best to scrutinize every HTTP request on your server to know whether they belong to trusted clients before you take any action.

It would be best to place the CSRF token strategically so that attackers cannot access it. Experts recommend that you put it before an HTML document because it will minimize any vulnerability that hijackers may capitalize on to invade your server. Finally, it is advisable to avoid transmitting these secret codes within cookies in your browser.

What Is Cross-Site Scripting? (XSS)

JavaScript is behind the growth of websites and applications that most users depend on today. The programming language is valuable to website creators and their daily visitors, but it is also responsible for several threats like Cross-Site Scripting.  

So, what is cross-site scripting? Cross-Site Scripting is an injection attack where the hacker attaches malicious code onto a legitimate website. The code tricks you into believing that you are loading a harmless URL, but in the real sense, you are enabling the malicious code when you log onto a web page. The most vulnerable sites are forums or other pages where the users are actively involved, such as message boards.

To keep you informed, we tell you how XSS attacks work, the forms they can take, and how to prevent them. Read on for these and more. 

How Do Cross-Site Scripting Attacks Work?

JavaScript gives intruders access to your network in the same way that it is essential to web creation. Millions of page visitors log onto web applications daily while looking for answers. Creating the site more interactive also makes it more user-friendly; but, unfortunately, it also facilitates malicious entry.

Cross-site Scripting involves the manipulation of a website such that it converts a legitimate site to a malicious JavaScript. It works inside the browser to intercept the victim’s use of the application. The hackers infiltrate a web page and add their code, targeting only the vulnerable points.

They use JavaScript to execute the malicious code for which the victim loads in the legitimate site. As a result, they can gain sensitive and personal information from the user. In some cases, they aim for the site admins and consequently gain the permissions they need to interfere with the site.

An XSS attack occurs in two main stages. First, the hacker finds the website’s vulnerable spot and embeds the malicious code on the target’s browser using JavaScript. Next, the victims fall into the trap as soon as they log into the website using the code. In other cases where the attack was deliberate, the hacker can deploy phishing to lead the victim to a specific URL.

The attackers can only achieve this when the users input their details to enter the page. The browser will do the rest by running the malicious code as the legitimate source. The attackers can also lure the victims using ads or phishing prompts.

It is crucial to be cautious when using the internet. There are several methods you can deploy to ensure that you don’t fall prey to attacks. First, it is best to allow only specific and safe items, especially when you are familiar with the site. You can also avoid or limit HTML use for pages you trust when generating content. Most importantly, it is vital to use an effective firewall to lock out malicious activities to keep you safe.

What Are the Types of XSS Attacks?

We go deeper to cover the details on the forms that an XSS attack can take. It can assume three main types, Stored, Reflected, and DOM-based. Also, there are other forms like the Self and Blind Cross Scripting. 

Reflected Cross-Site Scripting

In this form, the payload attaches to the data which goes to the server. The app then receives it as a request and attaches itself to the browser. Since the site will assume that it is a regular command, it will not process it. Consequently, the user will log onto the attacker’s URL, and the script from the hacker will automatically execute.

Given that it poses as the legitimate browser, the script assumes all the normal functioning, and the attackers get the freedom they need. They will have all the user’s sensitive information at their disposal and can easily corrupt the site if the target was an admin. 

Stored Cross-Site Scripting

Also, the second-order or persistent XSS occurs when the hackers embed their payload on a target server, leading to the delivery of malicious code to the site’s users. This form is more popular, more robust, and dangerous since it affects more users. All it needs is the attacker’s command, and new and previous users will be affected. The most vulnerable points are the profile sections.

You usually provide your username, email address, or any other sensitive personal details in such cases. You will only find this information on the server and not the page, and you wouldn’t have a clue when it’s happening. It can also take the form of HTTP requests where the site engages the users. They can obtain information from the comments or details on product orders.


Document Object Model (DOM) is a cross-site scripting attack also known as type-0. It is a website vulnerability that appears on DOM rather than the HTML. Attackers use URL sources to transport malicious data to it, allowing them to hijack web users’ crucial information. Commonly, DOM attacks occur when JavaScript carries a malicious source designed by a cybercriminal into a sink, rendering clients vulnerable.

To secure your data from DOM-based attacks, you can use web vulnerability scanners, enhanced browsers or carefully test each source. However, to ensure you are safe from site compromise, it is advisable to avoid allowing unfamiliar sources to write any information on your HTML.

Self Cross Scripting

It’s a web vulnerability where the attacker obtains control of the victims’ accounts without their knowledge. It happens when you obliviously run a code in your web browser that eventually exposes your information to malicious users. This cross-site Scripting tricks users into injecting a payload into your web browser, allowing hijackers to access personal data remotely.

Such malicious activities aren’t usually random. Primarily, they are target-specific intended to access information through sending malware. Therefore, it is essential to be cautious when copying and pasting codes or using data that you don’t understand.

Blind Cross Scripting

Here, the attacker will comprise your website, but the difference is that they cannot access the invasion progress, and the site users can see the malicious attacks. The hijackers must be accurate to create this kind of interruption since the payload may fail, and they won’t get any feedback.

Blind Cross Scripting is quite persistent and may take a long time before attacking your web applications. Thankfully, there are genuine scanners in the market that can help you detect this vulnerability even at the early stages before the attack can compromise your data.


Cross-Site Reference Forgery is an attack where malicious attackers pose as a sites’ actual users to trick the system into believing that it is performing a legitimate action. Therefore, developers have created a system where the server creates a unique user-specific token. If the user doesn’t enter the value or enters an inaccurate one, the system will immediately shut down and deny access.

Hackers cannot guess or generate valid information because it is a significant and randomly generated digit. It is only a few and tech-savvy hackers who can steal and use these tokens.

Cross-site Scripting is on the rise now that millions of users log onto websites every day. Secondly, the attackers find more intelligent means to use JavaScript and other forms to obtain sensitive information. It is essential to be on the lookout at all times not to fall for their schemes.

The best remedy is to set up a web application firewall (WAF) that will keep you safe at all times, not only from XSS but also from other devious infiltrations. Note that even when you fall victim to the trap, you can always mitigate the situation by locating the code and starting a clean slate.

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