There is basically nothing, nothing in this world that could have been dubbed irresistibly perfect, right? Well, yeah, but for Tarantino movies. Hence, regardless of how good and secure a runtime environment Node.js could be, it still has its own flaws and weaknesses, just like any language or framework. For example, one of Node.js’ most acute pain points (often ignored, by the way) is its third-party packages. Oh Lord, those third-party solutions, eh?
Where was I? The thing is that the majority of the Node Package Manager (NPM) ecosystem’s elements can be impacted indirectly through dependency chains, and it renders the need for studying the breach causes essential. Otherwise, you won’t be able to prevent violations from happening. To be precise, a study shows that 14% of the NPM’s elements can be impacted directly, while 54% of it falls within the threat of an indirect impact.
We know that Node.js development is impossible without security threats (code libraries, ready-made solutions, open-source elements, etc.) Nonetheless, it all boils down to the readiness to deal with problems and not one’s willingness to omit them. Let’s face it: issues will come whether you want it or not. Today, we will talk about the “Hateful Ten” of the most widespread Node.js security issues, breaking them down into a detailed guide on fixing each of them.
Defining NPM. An essential Node.js Development Element
Right before we plunge into learning how to identify and fix the most widespread Node.js security issues, let’s widen our expertise horizons a bit, shall we? First, we’ll talk about NPM and its importance to Node.js in general. NPM is an open-source ecosystem that supplies a substantial portion of the functionality required by the apps running on Node.js. The ecosystem also facilitates the development process as the parts of the source code, akin to packages, can be shared, installed, updated, and uninstalled in a very simplistic manner.
There is a need to understand that the Node.js development codebase may contain up to a thousand packages, which lets the developer use the already-created functionality instead of manually coding every single bit of software. Yet, there is more to this than meets the eye. Whenever adding a package, you can expect associated risks and vulnerabilities coming along as a “bonus” to grab. Luckily enough, the Node.js developers have understood this fact in the nick of time and came up with the NPM audit in 2018.
It has turned out to be a very useful tool. It alerts developers about possible vulnerabilities when a piece of code with a known weakness or risk is installed. In fact, this software creates comprehensive reports, which include the dependency tree of the code, as well as the security reports and tips on how to improve your specific problem. However, it turns out that NPM, let alone, does not cope with the mission comprehensively. Additional cybersecurity maneuvers are required to establish a secure Node.js environment.
Why Are There Problems with Security?
This is a question that sounds quite rhetorical or even dramatic, isn’t it? However, as a developer, you’re faced with a primordial choice: you either code everything from scratch or use open-source solutions and save yourself a great chunk of time and effort. Sure, you’ll have to deal with the security issues brought about by the open-source elements; yet, coding everything from scratch does not guarantee a security issues-free program as well. Furthermore, bear in mind that the tools that measure and provide security do not work effectively with open-source software.
It seems like a tough choice to make. Whichever variant you choose, there are some barriers to overcome. Nonetheless, sticking with the open-source solutions is definitely worth it, as the benefits of harnessing the open-source code potential outweigh the security issues that you’ll have to deal with after choosing this option. What is more, after reading this article, you’ll consider yourself no less than a master of Node.js security.
So, what does all this stuff has in common with NPM? The NPM index files help you find those open-source files within the Node.js framework – the ones that contain information about dependencies. But please, stay informed that the index files do not include the information on the open-source elements that were reused. The thing is that the open-source projects are reused copious times to facilitate and accelerate the launching of a product. However, this results in developers launching code snippets and functions in the index files. Meanwhile, the license of these projects often differs from the one that comes with Node.js.
So, now that you know everything we wanted you to know about the connection between the NPM and open-source elements, and the role they play in creating Node.js development security issues, it feels like the right time to talk about the ten Node.js security vulnerabilities and the ways of fixing or even preventing them.
Node.js Vulnerabilities and Solutions to Them
As has already been mentioned, Node.js is vulnerable to security threats imposed by the open-source elements often used when coding in this environment. In fact, there are different threats associated with the use of Node.js, including the person in the middle, code injection, and other advanced security risks. We’ve come up with a selection of ten of the most widespread and vicious ones, and, of course, we have brought the solutions to the table of discussion.
Situation 1. XSS Attacks Resulting from Invalid User Inputs
Solution 1. User Input Validation
Seems obvious, we know. Yet, not that obvious to way too many people, given the number and variety of the XSS attacks happening, which, in accordance with OWASP, is simply limitless. So, the solution is right there for you. Validate the users’ input with the help of such tools as Jade Engine, XSS-Filter, Validatorjs, and others.
Situation 2. Back-Front-End Data Leaks
When the front-end receives the information from the back-end, you can choose what the user will see, right? Still, what are the guarantees that you can offer to your customers that all this data (login and password by the very least) won’t be stolen by a hacker and won’t be revealed or sold to the cyber culprits? The notorious Ashley Madison dating app gave up the data of 37 million users to hackers by failing to ensure rigid protection for the data traveling to and fro the front and back end.
Solution 2. Restrain & Check
Would you find it predictable if we recommended you not to let any kind of sensitive information that is not required at the front-end go there? Of course, you would. What is more, getting your front-end secured involves a lot of tedious work; we know that. Yet, please don’t rush to conclusions and give us a chance to redeem ourselves in your eyes. Here are three methods to ensure at least the basic security of your data traveling from back-end to front-end
- Poison Records. Originally used to prevent the SELECT *-type injections, poison records are there to help you detect massive access requests to the database. With your users unlikely to trigger mammoth data volumes requests, you’ll be able to track and prevent any leakage.
- Query Templates. When you have your own query templates, you get to compare the SQL requests with some patterns on your list of attack vectors. Sure enough, you’ll get to actually create that list, but one way or another you have to know how the attackers work if you want to withstand them.
- Query Enumeration. This method might come in handy when creating your attack vectors list for query templates, as all the attacks contain their typical signatures. Detecting the very signatures is hard, of course; detecting an abrupt increase in the syntax error responses from the database is quite a viable task. Having an ML-trained classifier will help you a lot with dealing with this task.
Situation 3. Scarce Prevention
Well, there’s no better treatment than prophylaxis. The issue here is not everyone is eager to deal with security lints, which might be extremely helpful. Lints help your code detect the probability of an attack in advance, thus giving you the cutting-edge advantage over the attacker. Once again, the only problem is that folks sometimes repent from linting their apps, thinking that attacks might happen to anyone else but them.
Solution 3. Lint Your App
There is a plethora of linting tools for each and every environment, framework, and technology. Without linting, your code gets way more vulnerable to attacks, as you get deprived of the aforementioned advantage. For example, this is how the Android Studio Developers portal visualizes the workings of an app that features the linting tool.
lint.xml file lets you configure and specify the checks you want your app’s source files to go through, thus excluding the customization issue and making it easier for the server to process the data. As you can see, the lint tool renders, probably, all the app’s performance areas stronger. Hence, consider installing the linting plugins.
Situation 4. No User Access Control
Quite often, it happens that users might get too much access to the app’s or platform’s data. This problem’s cause boils down to the fact that not all software vendors or tech partners tend to study the applications they develop carefully enough prior to deployment. As a result, the users might end up having too many access rights than they need. The problem here is that the issue has been present for a long time now, and it seems like nobody is trying to do something about it.
A survey conducted by BeyondTrust back in 2013 shows that “44 percent of employees have access rights that are not necessary to their current role.” What is more, more than three-quarters of respondents claimed that the risks to their organization would increase over the years due to the insecurity issues caused by the unrightfully privileged users. While the survey considered corporate workers, who are yet put within the professional and ethical frameworks, independent users might turn out to be even more perilous.
Solution 4. Manual Unit Testing
Yes, it is tedious and sometimes even boring. Nonetheless, sometimes, we have not that much of a choice but to turn to manual testing of the application modules. Still, here comes a bit of the silver lining, you have to test only the modules that are being accessed with specific permission. Configure the access on the back-end, checking every single bit of code, thus preventing any further possibility of gaining access by authorized users.
Problem 5. CSRF
The cross-site request forgery is one of the fiercest enemies of modern cybersecurity, as it manipulates the users, luring them to perform the actions they do not want but yet tend to do so. CSRF presumes the implementation of malware and other objects through the remote code. Such an attack manipulates users to make different sorts of actions in a web application, which is very convenient for the hacker. These attacks often use social engineering in order to succeed. This may include baiting users to click on a certain link, which is sent via email or other channels.
Solution 5. Node.js Anti-Forgery Tokens
Before actually offering you a solution, shall we spare a minute and justify the reason for acting now? In accordance with the NVD and CVE statistics, the CSRF attacks are experiencing a renaissance these days. Since 2018, almost 3% of all the newly-discovered vulnerabilities have been classified as CSRF, which is almost the same figure as for the SQL injection cases, which stands at 3.02%.
Considering the variety of cyberattacks there are in today’s world, it seems like a big deal to take proper care of the CSRF attacks in advance. Fortunately, there are anti-forgery tokens that can be used to prevent CSRF attacks. Node.js can be configured in such a way that it checks user requests and prevents this kind of breach.
Situation 6. Insecure Express Framework
Whenever it comes to developing a web application with Node.js, make no mistake, the Express framework will be there for you, as it is nothing but the de facto standard server framework for developing web applications with Node.js. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that the Express.js framework is abundantly popular with programmers. Still, publicity always meant insecurity, right?
At the beginning of 2021, a ‘wannabe” security researcher Shoeb “CaptainFreak” Patel has come up with some research results, claiming that Express.js is quite sensitive to local file read errors. What is more, when being used along with the Handlebars engine (a popular templating tool for building web applications), the Express framework can be more than easily exploited to execute malicious code remotely. Hence, it seems like securing the Express framework is even more than a crucial task.
Solution 6. Secure the Framework & Cookies
Once again, an obvious solution, right? Yet, we’ve got some explanations and a stepwise guide on how to render your Express.js framework secure. To begin with, consider installing Helmet.js, a Node.js module that will surely save your day. Helmet.js is a perfect example of middleware that can prevent man-in-the-middle attacks and cross-site scripts. What is more, your server connections will become even more secure.
As a matter of fact, Helmet.js represents 13 middleware functions to use and set your HTTP response headers right and secure. Content Security Policy, preventing clickjacking, handling Certificate Transparency, disabling client-side caching, and adding extra XSS protection; are just some of the functions that you can expect Helmet.js to perform for you. Nonetheless, if you still somehow doubt the propriety of harnessing the Helmet’s potential, make sure to disable the X-Powered-By header by setting the app. disable ( ‘ x-powered-by ‘ )command.
Moving on, you have to protect your cookies, literally and metaphorically. While you can protect cookies literally by hiding them in a jar, securing the cookies for your web platform will take some knowledge. As a matter of fact, there are two major cookie session modules in Express.js: express-session and cookie-session. So, when setting your cookies security options, make sure to check the following boxes:
- HTTP Only;
Situation 7. Scarce Authentication System
We’ve already talked about the scarcities of Node.js development that lead to having users with excessive access rights. Well, it all starts with the lack of a solid authentication system, which would let you verify your users and thus track the perpetrator. The problem is that many developers think that “having authentication in place” is enough. Nonetheless, hackers basically do nothing but expect you to think so. Hence, let’s talk about the solutions you have at hand to perfect your authentication system.
Solution 7. Session IDs & Ready-Made Solutions
You can embark upon using ready-made solutions, such as OAuth, Okta, and Firebase Auth; there are more, those are just a few of them. Make sure that your users go through the two-factor authentication, as this is the most reliable way of getting their sessions secure.
Also, you can make use of the session IDs, which are also quite helpful when ensuring the maximum level of security and verification. Without further ado, here comes a figure that the guys from Stack Abuse have come up with to explain to you how everything works.
As we all know, HTTP is a stateless protocol, meaning that an HTTP request does not maintain a state. That is, the server is left uninformed about the previous requests sent by the very same user. Session-based authentication lets you render the HTTP requests self-contained – capable of memorizing the information regarding the user’s previous requests within the current session. Setting the session ID is the very best method to achieve these results, as it lets the server store the session ID information in a database.
As a result, every client will be assigned his or her own session ID, rendering all the user information identifiable. Session IDs land the helping hand you need to prevent any unauthorized access to your users’ accounts, thus taking proper care of the greater good and security of your platform.
Situation 8. No Automated Scanning
The utilization of libraries is, probably, one of the most bilateral concepts in today’s software development. When coding with Node.js, the usage of libraries is especially popular, meaning that the vulnerability of your software rises exponentially and correlates to the volume of library code that you use. It seems like you need some scanning done before you get to feel the harm.
Solution 8. Automated Library Code Scanning Tools
Uncovering vulnerabilities in the open-source code prior to it causing harm to your system is a crucial step to take. Here, you are not alone, as there are a plethora of tools to choose from and apply, such as OWASP Dependency-Check, Retire.js, Acutinex, and others.
Situation 9. Weak Credentials
Software development is a complex process. Meanwhile, software deployment and operations are even more complicated. Of course, you can have your code written perfectly well, but even a junior DevOps will tell you that weak pipelines can become a bait that lures hackers to gain access into your system.
Solution 9. Strengthen the Environments
Situation 10. Logging and Monitoring
Last but not least, we will give you a piece of advice. The basics of Node.js security presume you implement logging together with monitoring. This reactive security measure will make you identify the threat and redo the damage effectively. In case your app is made unavailable, you will see that there is no logging. However, with continuous monitoring, you will be able to detect the cases of different issues in real-time. It will alert you if something strange is happening.
So, if we’re talking about monitoring, let’s not beat around the bush and define a few examples of what application monitoring is all about. For instance, in accordance with Tek-Tools, application monitoring might relate to:
- CPU and server monitoring for defining the efficiency of your app’s running platform.
- Web server access logs analysis aimed at comparing the number of user requests received, processed, and the processing time per request.
- The app’s error rates tracking needed for refining the error detection and prevention system.
- The platform’s downtime monitoring with the help of network traffic analysis.
- Website and web application monitoring with the help of analytics platforms, such as Google Analytics, etc.
- Analysis and measurement of the app’s or platform’s key performance metrics against their dependencies on the programming services like Elasticsearch, SQL, Redis, etc.
One more thing, here comes the preliminary list of some of the best application and platform monitoring tools, which you can use to ensure your app’s optimized performance.
- Server & Application Monitor
- SolarWinds AppOptics
- New Relic APM
- AppDynamics Application Performance Management
- ManageEngine Applications Manager
- Amazon CloudWatch for Application Monitoring
- Stackify Retrace
Node.js development has its own fair share of vulnerabilities. This is the truth we have to face. The sooner we do it, the sooner we’ll start eradicating them. This is actually what distinguishes a decent, reliable software vendor from a mediocre one. The former knows that there are issues but knows how to deal with them; the latter tries to flee from them only to bump into a whole new, unscrutinized set of bugs and security scarcities.
Libraries and the open-source solutions, which are quite ample in Node.js, entail a chunk of troubles that might hinder the app’s security, which is unforgivable in today’s market. Sure enough, the ready-made codes make the developers’ life easier, but sometimes the price to pay for the “saved time and effort” is too high. Constant cybersecurity attacks, greedy hackers, and irresponsible users add up to the list of the security threats you’ll have to face when dealing with Node.js development. Ultimately, it is all about the attitude towards the issue, not the problem itself. The issues will come one way or another; it all boils down to whether you’re ready to face them.