What Is Cross-Site Scripting XSS Reflected Cross-Site Scripting?


Scott Campbell

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) is a common vulnerability in web applications that allows attackers to inject malicious scripts into web pages viewed by other users. One specific type of XSS is known as Reflected Cross-Site Scripting. In this article, we will explore what XSS and Reflected Cross-Site Scripting are, how they work, and how to prevent them.

What is Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)?
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) is a security vulnerability that occurs when a web application does not properly validate user input and allows untrusted data to be included in the output HTML pages. This enables attackers to inject malicious scripts that can be executed by other users visiting the affected pages.

How does XSS work?
The process of an XSS attack involves three main parties: the attacker, the victim, and the vulnerable web application. The attacker crafts a malicious script and finds a way to inject it into a trusted website or application. When the victim visits the compromised page, their browser unknowingly executes the injected script, giving the attacker control over their session cookies, sensitive information, or even full access to their account.

Types of XSS Attacks:
1. Reflected XSS: Reflected XSS occurs when user-supplied data is immediately returned by the web application in an error message or search result without proper sanitization. 2.

Stored XSS: Stored XSS happens when user input is stored on the server-side and later displayed on multiple pages without proper sanitization. 3. DOM-based XSS: DOM-based XSS exploits vulnerabilities in client-side scripts that manipulate the Document Object Model (DOM) of a web page.

What is Reflected Cross-Site Scripting?
Reflected Cross-Site Scripting (also known as Non-Persistent or Type-II XSS) occurs when user-supplied data is embedded within a web page response in an immediate or “reflected” manner. Unlike Stored XSS, the injected script is not permanently stored on the Target server but is reflected back to the victim as part of the server’s response.

How does Reflected XSS work?

When a user interacts with a vulnerable web application, they typically enter data into input fields such as search boxes or comment sections. If the application fails to properly sanitize and validate this data, an attacker can exploit the vulnerability by injecting a malicious script as part of their input. When the server processes the request and returns a response, it includes the injected script, which is then executed by the victim’s browser.


Let’s say there is a website with a search feature that displays search results on a page. The URL structure might look something like this:

If an attacker injects a script into the “q” parameter like this:

The web application may directly reflect this input in its response without proper sanitization. As a result, when a victim clicks on this manipulated link or performs a similar search, their browser will execute the injected script and display an alert box with the message ‘XSS’.

Preventing Reflected XSS:
To prevent Reflected XSS attacks, it is crucial to implement proper input validation and output encoding techniques. Here are some recommended practices:

1. Input Validation: Validate and sanitize all user inputs on both client-side and server-side before processing or storing them.

Output Encoding: Encode all user-generated content before displaying it in HTML pages to prevent malicious scripts from being executed. Content Security Policy (CSP): Implement a Content Security Policy that restricts the types of content that can be loaded on a web page, thereby mitigating the impact of XSS attacks.

  • Use the Content-Security-Policy header or the <meta> tag to specify allowed sources for scripts, stylesheets, and other resources.
  • Enforce the use of HTTPS to protect against data interception and modification.
  • Regularly update and patch your web application to fix any known vulnerabilities.


Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) poses a significant threat to web applications and users alike. Among the various types of XSS attacks, Reflected XSS is one of the most common.

By understanding how XSS works and following best practices for prevention, developers can significantly reduce the risk of these vulnerabilities in their applications. Remember to validate user input, properly encode output, and implement security measures such as Content Security Policy (CSP) to ensure a safer browsing experience for everyone.

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