Securing ASP.NET Applications
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by Gil Shabat
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Securing Your ASP.NET Web Application

Implementing security after the fact has a steep cost associated with it. Fixing software defects after the application goes into production might cost up to 15 times more than during development. Lax security also has some other indirect costs, such as damaging a company’s reputation and losing customers.

While securing an ASP.NET web application can be complex, it needs to be done on a continuous basis. The .NET framework and ASP.NET in particular, offer great features to make it easier to properly secure your web application.


Although ASP.NET supports several authentication methods, Form authentication is the one mostly used by internet applications. Unfortunately, this approach is not a particularly secured approach as it sends user’s credentials to the server in clear text. Depending on requirements, you might want to consider using SSL throughout the site or at least on the login page.

Since SSL might be impractical for many commercial web applications, one unique approach that you can consider is using Silverlight. Silverlight can be embedded on any sensitive page and provide encryption of any submitted data.

Web application’s authentication can be further enhanced with the following:

·         Password Policy

Enforce a password policy including strong passwords, password expiration, and possibly locking user accounts after a few unsuccessful login attempts.

·         Guessing Credentials – Brute Force Attacks

In addition to the above, you might want to introduce a random delay of a few seconds upon unsuccessful user login. This would make brute force attacks impractical to execute (use Thread.Sleep for this scenario.)

·         Password Hashing

If you manage your authentication store make sure to hash all user passwords.

Page Authorization & Data Validation

Small web applications are often built as a series of fairly isolated web pages. Each page is designed to handle its own security and functionality, basically acting as a mini application. Although this approach might work when security & maintenance concerns are few, it very rarely works for a larger web application.

One approach that is commonly implemented, which can offer a solid data validation and authorization infrastructure, is the development of a web framework to be used by all ASP.NET web pages in a consistent manner. This web framework should be designed to employ common authorization and data validation security check points upon every user request, allowing the application to streamline and tighten many security aspects throughout the application.

Building such a web framework in ASP.NET is surprisingly easy. Using .NET inheritance, we can design one or more ASP.NET base classes to inherit from the System.Web.UI.Page object. These base classes would run during each page lifecycle and would verify each user request before the results are served to the user.

The following page lifecycle events are commonly used to perform security checks before the page begins processing the request: Init, InitComplete and PreLoad.

Constructing the ASP.NET Web Framework

Structuring base web pages is easy. Let’s assume that our ASP.NET web application supports three kinds of users:

Unregistered users – allowed to browse anything publicly available.

Logged-in users – allowed to browse anything that’s public plus their own private information.

Administrators - same as a logged-in user plus some extra admin functionality.

Listing 1: base class to serve unregistered users, and foundation for other base classes

public abstract class BaseWebPage : System.Web.UI.Page


** This class should verify general information submitted by users, such as URL parameters, form data to some extent, cookies and other info that is not tied to any particular user.

Listing 2: User base class to be inherited by all pages used by logged-in users

public abstract class UserWebPage : BaseWebPage

** This class should ensure that the user is currently logged-in and has access to the page functionality and to the date they want to view.

Listing 3: Administrator base class to be inherited by all pages used by administrators

public abstract class AdminWebPage : UserWebPage

** This class should ensure that in the current user is indeed an administrator.

Linking ASP.NET Page to Our Web Framework

Utilizing the ASP.NET web framework above requires very minor adjustments to a web page. Rather than using the default ASP.NET page base class (System.Web.UI.Page) use the appropriate base class defined earlier.

For instance, if we defined a new ASPX page that is supposed to serve logged-in users we would define it as follows:

Listing 4: Sample ASPX code-behind page serving a particular user

public partial class ShowUserSettingsPage : UserWebPage

Performing Page Authorization & Data Validation

Now that we have built our web framework, all we have left is to verify user authorization per page and to perform general data validation for each request.

To perform page authorization, we would define one virtual method on the BaseWebPage class to authorize the current user. Both the UserWebPage and the AdminWebPage would override this method and provide their own implementation. We would call this method on Page_Init from the BaseWebPage before any page processing is taking place.

This might be implemented as follows:

Listing 5: Page authorization & data validation on BaseWebPage base class

public abstract class BaseWebPage : System.Web.UI.Page
        protected void Page_Init(object sender, EventArgs e)
        protected virtual void AuthorizeUser()
            //no need to do anything for unregistered users

** Class calls a virtual method AuthorizeUser that inheriting classes can implement to force specific user access rights, and once the user is authorized, the class verifies all data submitted to the web page.

Listing 6: Page authorization on UserWebPage for ASP.NET web pages designated for logged-in users

public abstract class UserWebPage : BaseWebPage
        protected override void AuthorizeUser()
                //user cannot see the page  - redirect to appropriate page

** Class overrides the AuthorizeUser to make sure current user is logged-in. 

More on Data Validation

A centralized web framework can offer many security benefits to web applications, but it often needs to be complemented with page-specific security measures to ensure proper data validation.

Web pages should employ data validation based on the following guidelines:

·         Data validation – web pages should enforce strict data validation on any piece of data not strictly covered by the web framework. This might include additional type casting (for instance ensures that a piece of data is an integer) range and length.  Regular expressions and Regex class are a great a great way to constrain input in ASP.NET.

·         Encoding – any web page displaying data on the browser that cannot be guaranteed to be safe should be encoded using Server.HtmlEncode to prevent any malicious cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks.

·         URL write actions– avoid performing database write actions against URL parameters even if data is valid and the user has authorization to perform such actions. Also ensure that every POST action is actually done from an internal application page to prevent cross-site request forgeries (CSRF) attacks.

·         Exceptions – make sure to catch any possible exceptions and only send user-friendly messages to the browser to avoid revealing any sensitive information that might reveal an application’s vulnerabilities.


Data Authorization – Data Access Framework


N-tier infrastructure is not a foreign concept to most ASP.NET developers and can provide substantial benefits in terms of performance and scalability. Among the many benefits of n-tier architecture, it also can be used to centralize and enforce strict authorization rules.

To do this effectively, a data access framework should be built as an isolated component and should be designed to do the following for each piece of functionality exposed to the ASP.NET web application:

·         Parameter Validation - validate all parameters supplied by the user for type, range, length, etc.

·         Authentication - ensure that the calling user is a valid user.

·         Authorization – verify that the user has rights to perform the current database operation.

·         Database Queries - avoid using dynamic SQL queries, if possible, and only use parameters.

·         User Data - only send back data that the current user is entitled to view or return user-friendly exceptions.

Application Configuration


Different applications require different configurations but the focus of this section is on those that fall under the responsibility of the web developer.

 Encrypting Sensitive Configuration Information

Any sensitive configuration information on the web.config and beyond should be properly encrypted to avoid exposing sensitive details like connection strings to potential attackers. You can use the web.config protectedData section to indicate which sections of the web.config file should be encrypted.

The following shows how to protect the connectionStrings section:

Listing 7: Protecting the connectionStrings section within the web.config

    <add name="connectionStrings" 
         provider="RSAProtectedConfigurationProvider" />

 ** This is a more suitable way to protect data across different web servers. Unlike DPAPI, the information is not tied down to any particular machine.

You can now use  aspnet_regiis to encrypt the appropriate section:

aspnet_regiis -pef connectionStrings "c:\...\MyWebApplication"

Protect Internal Exceptions

Prevent detailed exceptions from being displayed on the client’s browser entirely or display this only when the client is browsing on the web server itself.

View Entire Article

User Comments

Title: Good Job   
Name: Swapon
Date: 2009-12-01 11:45:31 PM
Really nice article.Well done.But it would be nice if you give the complete example with code.
Title: Good work   
Name: phani
Date: 2009-05-09 6:42:43 AM
Its really nice article but it would have been more effective if you have explained the measures to be taken elaboratively.
Title: Nice work!   
Name: Chama
Date: 2009-05-01 1:11:53 PM
I love this article. Nice work dude!
Title: s   
Name: Ajay
Date: 2009-04-29 12:23:46 AM
Excellent stuff!

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