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XSS prevention for Flask

This is a cross-site scripting (XSS) prevention cheat sheet by r2c. It contains code patterns of potential XSS in an application. Instead of scrutinizing code for exploitable vulnerabilities, the recommendations in this cheat sheet pave a safe road for developers that mitigates the possibility of XSS in your code. By following these recommendations, you can be reasonably sure your code is free of XSS.

Mitigation summary#

In general, you should use render_template() when showing data to users. If you need HTML escaping, use Markup() and review each individual usage carefully. Once reviewed, mark the line with # nosem. Beware of putting data in dangerous locations in templates. And as always, run a security checker continuously on your code.

Semgrep ruleset for this cheatsheet: https://semgrep.dev/p/minusworld.flask-xss

Check your project for these conditions:#

semgrep --config p/minusworld.flask-xss

PDF of this cheat sheet


1. Server code: Unescaped variable enters template engine in Python code#

1.A. render_template_string() with string formatting#

render_template_string() renders a Jinja2 template directly from a string. If the template is modified in any way, such as with string formatting, it creates a potential server-side template injection. Using render_template() is strictly safer because it does not create an opportunity to modify the template.

Example:

render_template_string("<div>%s</div>" % request.args.get("name"))

References:#

Mitigation#

Ban render_template_string(). Alternatively, use render_template().

Semgrep rule#

python.flask.security.audit.render-template-string.render-template-string

1.B. render_template() with unescaped file extension#

Flask only escapes templates with .html, .htm, .xml, or .xhtml extensions. This is not always obvious and could create cross-site scripting vulnerabilities.

Example:

render_template("unsafe.jinja2")

References:#

Mitigation#

Ban unescaped extensions. Alternatively, only use .html extensions for templates. If no escaping is needed, review each case and exempt with # nosem.

Semgrep rule#

python.flask.security.unescaped-template-extension.unescaped-template-extension

1.C. Explicitly unescaping variables using Markup()#

Markup() disables HTML escaping for the returned content. This permits raw HTML to be rendered in a template, which could create a XSS vulnerability.

Example:

flask.Markup(html_content)

References:#

Mitigation#

Ban Markup(). Alternatively, if needed, review each usage and exempt with # nosem.

Semgrep rule#

python.flask.security.xss.audit.explicit-unescape-with-markup.explicit-unescape-with-markup


2. Server code: Bypassing the template engine"#

2.A. Returning directly from a route#

Returning values directly from a route bypasses the template rendering engine, therefore bypassing any escaping. Use functionality provided by Flask to return content from routes, such as render_template() or jsonify().

Example:

@app.route("/index/<msg>")def index(msg):  return "Hello! " + msg

References:#

Mitigation#

Ban returning values directly from routes. Alternatively, use render_template() or jsonify().

Semgrep rule#

python.flask.security.audit.directly-returned-format-string.directly-returned-format-string

2.B. Using a Jinja2 environment directly#

Flask already comes with a Jinja2 environment ready for use which can be invoked via the render_template() function. Using Jinja2 directly may bypass the escaping protections that are enabled in Flask by default.

Example:

with open('template', 'r') as fin:  jinja2.Template(fin.read()).render()

References:#

Mitigation#

Ban using Jinja2 directly. Alternatively, use render_template().

Semgrep rule#

python.flask.security.xss.audit.direct-use-of-jinja2.direct-use-of-jinja2


3. Templates: Variable explicitly unescaped#

3.A. Usage of the | safe filter#

The | safe filter disables HTML escaping for the provided content. This permits raw HTML to be rendered in a template, which could create a XSS vulnerability.

Example:

{{ name | safe }}

References:#

Mitigation#

Ban | safe. Alternatively, use Markup() in Python code if necessary.

Semgrep rule#

python.flask.security.xss.audit.template-unescaped-with-safe.template-unescaped-with-safe

3.B. Disabling autoescaping with {% autoescape false %}#

The {$ autoescape false %} block disables autoescaping for whole portions of the template. Disabling autoescaping allows HTML characters to be rendered directly onto the page which could create XSS vulnerabilities.

Example:

{% autoescape false %}

References:#

Mitigation#

Ban {$ autoescape false %}. Alternatively, use Markup() in Python code if necessary.

Semgrep rule#

python.flask.security.xss.audit.template-autoescape-off.template-autoescape-off


4. Templates: Variable in dangerous location#

4.A. Unquoted variable in HTML attribute#

Unquoted template variables rendered into HTML attributes is a potential XSS vector because an attacker could inject JavaScript handlers which do not require HTML characters. An example handler might look like: onmouseover=alert(1). HTML escaping will not mitigate this. The variable must be quoted to avoid this.

Example:

<div class={{ classes }}></div>

References:#

Mitigation#

Flag unquoted HTML attributes with Jinja expressions. Alternatively, always use quotes around HTML attributes.

Semgrep rule#

python.flask.security.xss.audit.template-unquoted-attribute-var.template-unquoted-attribute-var

4.B. Variable in href attribute#

Template variables in a href value could still accept the javascript: URI. This could be a XSS vulnerability. HTML escaping will not prevent this. Use url_for to generate links.

Example:

<a href="{{ link }}"></a>

References:#

Mitigation#

Flag template variables in href attributes. Alternatively, use url_for to generate links.

Semgrep rule#

python.flask.security.xss.audit.template-href-var.template-href-var

4.C Variable in <script> block"#

Template variables placed directly into JavaScript or similar are now directly in a code execution context. Normal HTML escaping will not prevent the possibility of code injection because code can be written without HTML characters. This creates the potential for XSS vulnerabilities, or worse.

References:#

Example:

<script>var name = {{ name }};</script>

Mitigation#

Ban template variables in <script> blocks. Alternatively, use the tojson filter inside a data attribute and JSON.parse() in JavaScript.