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Gilad David MaayanGilad David MaayanGuest Contributor

5 Node.js Security Risks You Cannot Ignore

NodeJS Security Risks

Node.js, like any other framework or programming language, is prone to all kinds of web application vulnerabilities. The core of Node.js is secure, but third-party packages may require additional security measures to protect your web applications. According to the research, 14% of the Node Package Manager (NPM) ecosystem is affected. The indirectly affected packages are estimated to be about 54% of the ecosystem.

Why Node.js Projects Have Security Risks?

Open source applications inherit any security and licensing issues from their open source components. The problem is that security testing tools like dynamic and static code analysis are ineffective at detecting open source vulnerabilities. 

In order to identify open source components in Node.js, you have to analyze the package manager index files that describe the dependencies. However, index files do not include reused open source components. 

The open-source community often reuses open source projects to accelerate development, decrease time to market, and incorporate functionality. As a result, both open-source and commercial developers can introduce functions, code snippets, and methods into files. The result is that many Node.js web development projects include licensing terms other than the original Node.js license.

Is Node.js a Threat to Safe Application Functioning?

Some developers consider Node.js to be a security threat due to the lack of default error handling, caused by platform construction. Errors or application failures can lead to server turnoffs.

The most common Node.js security issues include NPM phishing and regular expressions Denial of Service (DoS). Besides the Node-related threats, there are also the usual web security issues like cross-site request forgery, cross-site scripting, unvalidated redirects, and security misconfiguration. 

Open Source Components That Cause Node.js Security Issues

The following table reviews some of the open source components you can find in Node.js projects. These components consist of hidden license elements that can cause a Node security risk. Failure to comply with hidden open-source licenses elements can put a company at risk of legal actions.

Open Source Components That Cause Node.js Security Issues

Top 5 Node.js Security Risks

Node.js security issues can expose you to attacks like code injection, man in the middle, and advanced persistent threats. Below is a brief review of the risks that may lead to these attacks, and possible solutions.

1. Old versions of Express

Express is the most widely used web application framework for Node.js. However, Express was not designed with security in mind. Older versions of Express may be a serious security risk. You have to use only the up-to-date and maintained versions to ensure the security of applications.

Helmet can help you protect Node.js and Express applications. Helmet is a collection of middleware functions that improve the security of HTTP headers. This includes prevention of man-in-the-middle attacks, cross-site scripting attacks, and enforcing secure server connections.

Do you want to learn more about Express.js security?

Read my recent article "Express.js Security Tips: Save Your App!". Here, I list 7 simple measures to ensure the security of Express.js app.

2. Cross-Site Scripting

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) enables hackers to inject malicious client-side scripts into web pages viewed by other users. Malicious client-side scripts can lead to data leaks. To prevent XSS attacks in Node.js you can use output encoding techniques or tools such as Jade engine with built-in encoding frameworks.

3. Cross-Site Forgery Requests (CSFR)

CSRF attacks force end users to execute unnecessary actions on authenticated web applications. The targets of CSRF attacks are changes in application state requests, because the attacker has no way of seeing the forged request response. 

Hackers can trick users into executing unnecessary actions by using social engineering techniques, like sending links via chat or email. CSRF can force state-changing requests like changing email addresses and then transferring funds. For administrative users, CSRF can compromise the entire web application.

Preventing CSRF in Node.js requires the use of Anti-Forgery Tokens. Anti-CSRF tokens are used to monitor and validate the authenticity of user requests, and prevent one-click attacks.

4. Default cookie session name

Session cookies enable websites to identify users. Any action you do on the website is stored as a cookie. Shopping carts in e-commerce sites are the most common example of this functionality. 

The session cookie remembers your selected items in the e-commerce site. As a result, the shopping cart will have these items when you are ready to check out. The new page will not recognize your past activities on other pages without session cookies.

Using default cookie names is risky because attackers can easily identify these names and threaten your application. The solution is to use one of the middleware cookie session modules like express-session.

5. X-Powered-By header

X-Powered-By is a common non-standard HTTP response header. Some scripting technologies include this response by default in the header. Servers have the option to disable or change X-Powered-By response to prevent hackers from targeting a particular technology.

X-Powered-By reveals information about the technology used in an app. As a result, hackers can use X-Powered-By to exploit Node.js security weaknesses. You have to hide the information about the server technology by disabling this header.

Conclusion

Node.js application development requires a deep dive into the actual source of a third-party package. You should learn more about the open source package dependencies of your applications and the hidden elements of their licenses. In addition, you can also address the Node.js vulnerability concerns by leveraging dedicated security tools and audits. After all, you can hire a Node.js consulting company, who will navigate you through the process of ensuring Node.js security.

Do you need help ensuring security of your Node.js app?

Our engineers will gladly help you address all the potential security risks. Contact us to learn more about Node.js development, data safety ensurance, and other services that we offer.


Thank you to Gilad David Maayan for contributing this article. Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Imperva, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership.

Gilad David MaayanGilad David MaayanGuest Contributor