A story of one not-a-bug SQL injection

Recently I was auditing a website for security vulnerabilities. I found few good issues, but one part of the application looked solid - all interactions with database were done through PHP-MySQLi-Database-Class - a helper library that utilized parameterized statements. I wanted to get into the database really badly, so the only option I had was to find a vulnerability in the library.

After some time I found and successfully exploited a flaw in the wrapper, but when I tried to disclose the vulnerability to developers I faced a denial :) First I was told it is a fault of the user of the library - lack of validation, a “primary junior mistake”, then I was told it is “not a bug” and “that mysqlidb doesn’t support parameterized queries”, it is “not a security vulnerability” and the “library never been advertising parameterized queries”.

Parameterized queries are also known as prepared statements. The safe injection-free technique is also often called parameter binding. The idea is that the application supplies (binds) values separately from the SQL expression that contains just placeholders like:

    $mysqli = new mysqli('host', 'username', 'password', 'databaseName');
    $stmt = $mysqli->prepare('SELECT * FROM products WHERE name = ?');
    $stmt->bind_param('s', $_POST['userInput']);

The library does advertise using it. It is written in the description of the repository - “Wrapper for a PHP MySQL class, which utilizes MySQLi and prepared statements”. Also it is not just a misleading statement, it is what they actually do.

So how come it is vulnerable? The library provides object interface, that in the end builds the prepared statement dynamically. The Select example above would look like:

    $db = new MysqliDb('host', 'username', 'password', 'databaseName');
    $db->where('name', $_POST['userInput']);

The issue is that because of special “forkaround” in where function if $whereValue happens to be an array, $operator value is extracted from it. The value is non-parametrerized, i.e. it gets into generated SQL statement without any validation.

    public function where($whereProp, $whereValue = 'DBNULL', $operator = '=', $cond = 'AND')
        // forkaround for an old operation api
        if (is_array($whereValue) && ($key = key($whereValue)) != "0") {
            $operator = $key;
            $whereValue = $whereValue[$key];
        if (count($this->_where) == 0) {
            $cond = '';
        $this->_where[] = array($cond, $whereProp, $operator, $whereValue);
        return $this;

A malicious user may issue a request like this for example:

POST /page.php HTTP/1.1

That will inject = ? or 1=1 -- into the previous SQL statement as:
SELECT * FROM products WHERE name = ? or 1=1 --?

Notice that where function has an additional third parameter for $operator. Library creators were looking for troubles (or is it a backdoor?) by reusing second parameter for two purposes: value binding and SQL expression operator. Additional input validation by a user of the library could prevent that, but it is a defense in depth, not something you expect average programmer does when working with prepared statements that are known to be safe.