I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time auditing web applications, and I’ve come to realize that a large amount of developers do not understand the root cause
of Cross Site Scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities. The most common mistake committed by developers (and many security experts, I might add) is to treat XSS as an input validation problem. Therefore, I frequently come across situations where developers fix XSS problems by attempting to filter out meta-characters (<, >, /, ", ', etc). At times, if an exhaustive list of meta-characters is used, it does solve the problem, but it makes the application less friendly to the end user a large set of characters are deemed forbidden. The correct approach to solving XSS problems is to ensure that every user supplied parameter is HTML Output Encoded
(Example: < is replaced with <). Most frameworks (.NET for example) provide API’s that help with HTML encoding, but I have come across instances where such APIs don’t encode certain characters that can lead to XSS when more complicated variants of input are attempted. Therefore, I frequently and highly recommend RSnake’s XSS cheat-sheet
to test web based applications and services for XSS vulnerabilities. If you are a web developer or tester, I do recommend that you test your application with the inputs suggested by RSnake to test for XSS issues.