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What is a Directory Traversal Attack?

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Directory Traversal Attack is a kind of Brute-force attack which will give potential access to restricted files and directories. This attack can also tell the attacker about the directory structure of the web application. It is very important to make web applications secure by giving protection to web content & giving controlled access.

Directory Traversal Attack is very easy to implement but the outcomes could be harmful, in hacking Data means everything & if an attacker gets any important or privileged data, this simple attack could lead to many others. It is often easily prevented with some basic steps, but they need to be followed properly with no mishandling.

Working Methodology

The working of directory traversal attacks is quite simple. It basically works with wordlist; wordlist means the words which are most ordinarily used for critical or useful files and directories. Directory Traversal basically traverses the webserver in the search of all the words defined in the wordlist & reverts with HTTP Status codes which are basically responses to URL requests sent by the webserver. A numeric code is going to be returned which can show whether the file is present or there might be chances the URL defined is wrong.

A wordlist is the foundation of such kind of attack but if an attacker puts very common words in the wordlist or words that are used earlier, or filenames are changed (that most usually happens) then it could result in nothing. So, the wordlist should be organized properly to execute a successful attack.

Working of Directory Traversal Attack

Working of Directory Traversal Attack

A Directory Traversal Attack typically works by exploiting a vulnerability in a web application that allows an attacker to manipulate the input parameters used by the application to access files and directories.

For example, let’s say a web application allows users to download files by specifying the file name in a URL parameter. If the application does not properly validate and sanitize the input, an attacker can manipulate the parameter to access files and directories that are outside of the web root directory.

Here is an example URL that could be used in a Directory Traversal Attack:

http://example.com/download.php?file=../../../../etc/passwd

In this example, the attacker is trying to access the /etc/passwd file, which is typically only accessible by the root user. By using the “../” notation to traverse up the directory structure, the attacker is able to bypass any access controls and access the file.

Preventing a Directory Traversal Attack:

Preventing a Directory Traversal Attack requires proper input validation and sanitization in web applications. This can be achieved by:

  • Implementing proper input validation and sanitization to ensure that user input is only used for its intended purpose.
  • Avoiding the use of user input to specify file paths or directory locations.
  • Restricting file permissions to limit access to sensitive files and directories.
  • Using a web application firewall (WAF) to block requests that match known Directory Traversal Attack patterns.

Directory Traversal Vulnerability

A directory traversal vulnerability is the effect of inadequate filtering/validation of browser input from users. Directory Traversal vulnerabilities are often located during a web server software/files or in application code that’s executed on the server. Directory Traversal vulnerabilities can exist during a sort of programming language, including Python, PHP, Apache, and more. Directory Traversal vulnerabilities are often prevented using certain measures.

A Directory Traversal Attack typically works by exploiting a vulnerability in a web application that allows an attacker to manipulate the input parameters used by the application to access files and directories.

For example, let’s say a web application allows users to download files by specifying the file name in a URL parameter. If the application does not properly validate and sanitize the input, an attacker can manipulate the parameter to access files and directories that are outside of the web root directory.

Tools used for Directory Traversal Attack

DIRBUSTER: DirBuster is a Java application that offers a GUI interface. It is used to find concealed files by brute-forcing files & directories with the aim of gaining some valuable information that could help in attacks. The effectiveness of such a tool could be determined by wordlist, the more effective the wordlist, the more effective will be the tool.

DIRB: It is a CLI (Command Line Interface) based web page Scanner written in C language. DIRB works by launching a Dictionary-based attack on a web server and as a result show hidden files & Directories. It comes with preinstalled files & directories but if the user wants, he can add his own list for search. DIRB is usually utilized in Web Application testing or Auditing.

GOBUSTER: GoBuster performs tasks very fast. GoBuster is a Command Line Interface (CLI) based tool & has been developed in Go Language. It doesn’t come preinstalled. GoBuster has 3 modes; First is DNS mode which is used to find subdomain of a given domain, second is DIR mode which is used to find hidden files & directories, and Third is the VHOST mode which is used to discover virtual hosts of server; Virtual hosts means sometimes one server hosts many domains so GoBuster can find about them.

Advantages

  1. DirBuster provides a GUI interface, which is obviously very easy to understand and use. DirBuster is often employed by anyone with no hustle.
  2. As compared to other Directory Brute-forcing tools, GoBuster is extremely fast. GoBuster has been developed in the Go language & This language is known for speed.
  3. DIRB is very easy to use as it supports Command Line Interface, User just has to type DIRB & then the URL in the prompt & That’s it. So, it is not complicated.
  4. DIRB is the most used tool as a Directory-forcing tool. It is mostly utilized in Web Application Testing or Auditing.
  5. Before any attack, Information Gathering is a must. So, Directory Traversal tools are mostly used to find details about files & directories in a server.

Disadvantages

  1. DirBuster provides a GUI interface which is a plus also a disadvantage because it is straightforward to use but it’s not compatible with CLI (Command Line Interface) OS.
  2. DIRB works very fast when a user is using a small wordlist. But if the wordlist is sort of long, DIRB works very slow.
  3. GoBuster doesn’t support traversing directories recursively which suggests directories that are deep need scanning again.
  4. In DirBuster when the user tries to increase the number of threads for getting the results faster, it actually stops after getting 20 consecutive errors.
  5. DIRB has one big disadvantage as Multithreading as it is sort of helpful in directory brute-force tools but DIRB doesn’t support which makes this tool very slow.

Last Updated : 14 Mar, 2023
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