Do not trust user input part 2

After we fixed our code in part 1 of this serie, we continue to expand our API adding a method to select  a Customer. Northwind database Customer table has an id of type string, so we could start with this very bad, bad, bad piece of code.


Figure 1: Another bad example of API vulnerable with Sql Injection

Again the question is: what is the most critical error in that piece of code? If you answer “Query with string concatenation” probably you are wrong. Indeed that is a huge problem, but in my mind is accepting a string from the user is still the number one problem.

Remember that accepting a string from the user basically means that you accept really every possible sequence of characters, probably not what you really want.

If in part 1 example using a parameter string for an integer id is a real stupid error, someone could be tempted to affirm that, since the id of the customer is a string, it is normal for the API to accept a string. Believe me, the answer is: NO!

If I look at northwind database, id is composed by 5 uppercase letters, every id has this specific pattern and is not random. This is the reason why I can define a specific class to represent a valid customer id that throws exception if anything different from a valid pattern is passed as argument.

public class CustomerIdClass
    public CustomerIdClass(String customerId)
        if (customerId.Length != 5)
            throw new ArgumentException("Invalid Id", nameof(customerId));

        if (customerId.Any(c => !Char.IsLetter(c)))
            throw new ArgumentException("Invalid Id", nameof(customerId));

        Id = customerId;

    public String Id { get; private set; }

As you can see, this class is really simple, it represents the id of a customers that can be created only from a string composed exactly by 5 letters. Customer object has CustomerId property of type CustomerIdClass and this will ensure that you cannot create a customer with invalid id. This enforces Customer Id pattern in every instance in your code, preventing you to create a customer with invalid id like “3”.

This type of technique is extremely useful also for security purposes, because you can now change your API method to construct a valid CustomerId.


Figure 2: GetCustomer method now construct a valid CustomerIdClass before issuing the query

Thanks to this code, you can still ask for customer with a simple get:


Figure 3: Simple query for customers

Any request that deviates from the standard pattern of a customer Id (5 chars) returns an error


Figure 4: Error returned from wrong id

Now it is mandatory that you should also change the way you are issuing your query to Sql Engine removing the injection, but we can all agree that an attacker has an hard life to try injection of any kind using only 5 letters even if your query is really bad and directly concatenates strings. The lesson is always the same: limit what the user can pass as parameter to the exact pattern of the data you can expect, instead of allowing any string to be passed.

Gian Maria.