Scriptless Attacks – Stealing the Pie Without Touching the Sill

Mario Heiderich, Marcus Niemietz, Felix Schuster, Thorsten Holz, Jörg Schwenk

19th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS), Raleigh, NC, October 2012


Due to their high practical impact, Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) attacks have attracted a lot of attention from the security community members. In the same way, a plethora of more or less effective defense techniques have been proposed, addressing the causes and effects of XSS vulnerabilities. As a result, an adversary often can no longer inject or even execute arbitrary scripting code in several real-life scenarios.

In this paper, we examine the attack surface that remains after XSS and similar scripting attacks are supposedly mitigated by preventing an attacker from executing JavaScript code. We address the question of whether an attacker really needs JavaScript or similar functionality to perform attacks aiming for information theft. The surprising result is that an attacker can also abuse Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) in combination with other Web techniques like plain HTML, inactive SVG images or font files. Through several case studies, we introduce the so called scriptless attacks and demonstrate that an adversary might not need to execute code to preserve his ability to extract sensitive information from well protected websites. More precisely, we show that an attacker can use seemingly benign features to build side channel attacks that measure and exfiltrate almost arbitrary data displayed on a given website.

We conclude this paper with a discussion of potential mitigation techniques against this class of attacks. In addition, we have implemented a browser patch that enables a website to make a vital determination as to being loaded in a detached view or pop-up window. This approach proves useful for prevention of certain types of attacks we here discuss.


tags: Attack Fonts, CSS, HTML5, Scriptless Attacks, SVG, XSS