Skip to content

ASP.NET articles

ASP.NET MVC preview available  

The first public preview of Microsoft’s ASP.NET MVC (model view controller) framework is now available.

Download ASP.NET 3.5 Extensions (EXE) (3.7 MB)

Download MVC Toolkit (ZIP) (400 KB)

The project takes cues from Ruby on Rail’s success and looks to address dissatisfaction with the testability and maintainability of WebForms applications and provides an alternative approach that is centered around views, models, controllers with a clear separation of concern and the ability to mock test the individual elements.The official documentation is online and there is a great four-part series over at Scott Guthrie’s blog which covers:

Phil Hack and Rob Conery are both now at Microsoft and working on the framework, they have some interesting things to say on it too:

A few other people have already written about the subject too:

Most of the examples and many of the routines/helpers fail to encode output which opens them up to HTML and script injection vulnerabilities. Remember to HttpUtility.HtmlEncode output and use Reflector if you’re unsure whether a function is encoding correctly.

The CTP requires Visual Studio 2008 to get the most out if it so either head over to MSDN Subscriber Downloads or grab a 90-day trial edition if you don’t already have it installed.


How dangerous is HTML injection?  

A few years ago I believed that HTML and SQL injection vulnerabilities were headed for extinction. Thanks to object-relational mapping tools SQL injection continues to die but HTML and script injection vulnerabilities are as popular as ever.

Part of the problem stems from the “back-to-basics” approach to rendering web pages, throwing out classes and controls for string-based libraries (primitive obsession) and helpers which do not encode HTML or even offer a concise simple syntax to do so.

MonoRail was one such project but they took feedback on board and addressed the issue although I was surprised it had got as far as release candidate 2 with such a serious oversight.

Other projects have been less reactive when advised of the problem and I can’t help but wonder if I am not getting the severity of the issue across. This isn’t just an annoyance but a real security problem.

If you are not familiar with:

  • HttpUtility.HtmlEncode (.NET)
  • Server.HtmlEncode (ASP)
  • htmlentities/htmlspecialchars (PHP)
  • html_escape (Rails)
  • {! } (MonoRail Brail)

and your web apps output data then they are likely open to HTML & script injection vulnerabilities.

Vulnerable code often looks like this:

myLabel.Text = Request.Form["Something"];
<%= myDataReader[0] %>
<? php echo get_the_title() ?>

For more ASP.NET examples check out 5 signs your ASP.NET application may be vulnerable to HTML injection.

Let’s start by considering the actors involved:

Visitor to visitor

If your site stores input from an external user (visitor) and displays it to another then you could be exposed to this scenario. Many sites do this although it is not always immediately recognised – an internet banking site does not seem an obvious candidate until you consider that you may put a textual reference on payments made to another person. If you know they use a vulnerable internet banking solution…

A worst-case scenario here would be that one visitor could steal another’s login credentials and exploit whatever rights that might give him – anything from posting messages to stealing funds.

Visitor to staff

Not all sites exchange data between users but if your site collects information from visitors chances are it presents this information to staff. Internal systems used to examine it are often considered less vulnerable which is a mistake. Remember *all* data provided from a user should be considered to be a potential avenue for a dangerous payload, e.g. even the language-accepts or user-agent strings.

When exploited internal systems can reveal information in bulk about the users, the system and the administration accounts used to manage it. Gaining access to these details brings all the privileges those accounts have to offer which can be catastrophic.

Staff to visitor

It is easy to forget that many frauds are perpetuated by people on the inside. A staff member given the ability to present text to the user via a website has the ability to modify any page that the content is presented on which if it includes a login page (perhaps for system status messages) then capturing login details to a server of their own choice is easy.

Security operators with access to reset (but not view) passwords would find this attack particularly enticing given that they do not need to reset the users account and therefore raise any awareness. An insider can perpetuated the fraud and may be in a position to further conceal it within the organisation.

Next steps?

I can envisage a sequence of steps that start with discovery of injectable systems through detection of script-enabled into form capture-and-forward and async logging of passwords through XmlHttp.

Detailing those steps would certainly raise awareness and help developers appreciate the severity of the issue but how do I make sure that information isn’t abused?

Disclosure is a double-edged sword but then you can’t have security through obscurity… I wonder how many crackers/black hackers already utilise these techniques for nefarious means.

.NET developers might like to check out the slides from the Web Application Security talk I gave at the Guernsey Software Developer Forum which demonstrates exploitable, exploits and safe alternatives for preventing HTML and SQL injection.


Security vulnerabilities are not acceptable in sample code  

Earlier this week the ASP.NET article of the day linked to 4-Tier Architecture in ASP.NET with C# which I noticed suffered from both HTML and SQL injection. I promptly informed the author and the ASP.NET site (who pulled the link) but the author was rather unconcerned and wrote (after editing my comment):

Thanks for your feedback Damieng. Sql statement has been used here to make the tutorial simple, it is informed in the DAL description.

The problem is people borrowing this code may not notice the vulnerability or understand how to fix it. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen easily exploited sample code, responded and been buffed off with the it’s just sample code excuse.

Writing secure code isn’t difficult, time consuming or confusing to read.

Microsoft’s forthcoming LINQ toS QL and Entity Framework provide object-relational mapping that takes care of the SQL, as do other well-known ORM tools such as SubSonic and NHibernate.

If you must write your own data-access-layer (DAL) code use parameterised queries and not string concatenation.

When outputting values be 100% sure whether your technique will encode the values for you or not and be aware of what encoding tools are available to you.

ASP & ASP.NET’s Response.Write and <%= %> methods do NOT encode for you and you should be using HttpUtility.HtmlEncode to output data to a HTML stream.

Samples of vulnerable and secure code are in my presentation on Web Security I gave at the Guernsey Software Developer Forum a few months ago.


Observations on Microsoft MVC for ASP.NET  

Anyone who’s tried to develop large complex web sites with ASP.NET has likely run into many problems covering the page and control life cycle, view state and post backs and subsequent maintainability including the difficulty in creating automated unit tests.

Microsoft, taking a cue from the popularity of Ruby on Rails and subsequent .NET related efforts such as MonoRail, are embracing the model-view-controller (MVC) pattern and developing something more suited to web development than WebForms which aimed to make web development as similar to Windows development as possible (despite the major underlying differences in architecture).

The prototype, currently named System.Web.Mvc or Microsoft.Web.Scalene depending on where you look, is headed by Scott Guthrie with both Phil Haack and Scott Hanselman involved (sounds like a dream project and team to be involved with) and a preview release (“drop”) is due within the coming weeks.

Gurthrie and Hanselman presented Microsoft MVC at the Alt.Net conference which revealed some interesting details buried in the video, my rough observations and notes based on the prototype they showed follows:


  • Don’t repeat yourself
  • Highly extensible & pluggable
  • Use generics to achieve strong-typing without code generation
  • Good performance, fast enough for large-scale sites
  • Separation of concern for maintainability
  • Clean URLs in and out
  • Clean HTML


  • Interfaces used extensively
  • No sealed classes
  • Plug-in points for view engines (e.g. MonoRail’s NVelocity, Brail)
  • Support for Inversion of Control (IoC) engines (e.g. Windsor, StructureMap, Spring.NET)


  • Runs on the .NET 2.0 CLR
  • Some helper classes require .NET 3.5 (extension methods)
  • Normal Request, Response objects (via interfaces for mocking)
  • Does not support postback (form runat=”server”)
  • Supports MasterPages, DataBinding, CodeBehind
  • Existing .aspx’s are blocked using web.config

Visual Studio

  • Solution templates for web project and unit testing
  • Full designer & IntelliSense integration


  • Route -> ControllerFactory -> Controller -> Action -> ViewEngine -> View


  • Routes can be defined dynamically and support RegEx URL matching
  • IControllerFactory pops out the required IController
  • Routing is case insensitive by default
  • Support REST, blog engine, Jango style mappings etc. default is /controller/action/parameters


  • FrontController style
  • IController exposes:
    • Execute(IHttpContext context, RouteData routeData)
    • IViewEngine ViewEngine property
  • Some implementations available, all with virtual methods:
    • ControllerBase (adds dispatching)
    • Controller (Populate parameters into ViewData[“key”])
    • Controller<T> (Populates parameters by making ViewData type T)
  • Attributes
    • [ControllerAction] attribute to expose methods as actions (secure default behaviour by not exposing helper methods)
    • Attribute for output caching
    • [ControllerAction(DefaultAction=true)] to override default method of Index

Parameters (to the controller)

  • Automatically parsed where a TypeConverter exists
  • Future versions will support more complex serialization of types
  • Can be nullable – use null coalesce operator for defaults

View Engine

  • IViewEngine
    • IView LoadView(string viewName)
  • Implementations include:
    • WebFormViewEngine


  • IView
    • virtual void RenderView(object data)
  • Implementations include:
    • ViewPage – pick up parameters from ViewData[“”] in conjunction with Controller
    • ViewPage<T> pick up parameters from ViewData as type T in conjunction with Controller<T>


  • Clean HTML generation (have they sorted out the id mangling by MasterPages/INamingContainer?)
  • Static Html class supports Link, PagingLinks and Url methods
  • Map to action names using Lambda expressions to ensure follows refactoring, e.g.
    string url – Html.Link<ProductController>(controller =>controller.Edit(4);
  • Is there a way to follow the default action?


  • Pagination extension methods extend IQueryable for getting pages of data (skip, limit)
  • Pattern for view-update-view cycle
  • Object property to form field id mapping available and pluggable, allows
    • product.UpdateFrom(Request.Form)


  • Easy to write tests by using mock objects (request, response)
  • Unit testing framework project (NUnit, MBUnit, xUnit.NET)


  • What’s with ScottGu’s nametag, can the show’s organisers not afford anything more than a PostIt note?
  • What cool software is Scott Hanselman using to do the screencast video/zoom/overlay/highlighting?