XSS vs CSRF: Difference Between CSRF vs XSS Attacks

In this comprehensive comparison of Cross Site Scripting vs Cross Site Request Forgery attacks (XSS vs CSRF) we will explore the key differences between them on various aspects of cybersecurity.


XSS (Cross-Site Scripting) and CSRF (Cross-Site Request Forgery) are two common web application security vulnerabilities that can be exploited by attackers to compromise the security of a website or web application. They are both types of attacks that target web applications but their goals and methods are different.

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

  • XSS is a vulnerability that occurs when a web application allows an attacker to inject malicious scripts (usually JavaScript) into web pages viewed by other users.
  • The attacker can inject these scripts into the application’s input fields or other user-generated content, such as comments, forum posts, or chat messages.
  • When other users view the compromised web page, their web browsers execute the injected script as if it were a legitimate part of the page, leading to various malicious activities, such as stealing user data (like cookies or session tokens), redirecting users to malicious websites, or performing actions on behalf of the victim.
  • There are three main types of XSS attacks: Stored XSS, Reflected XSS, and DOM-based XSS, each with its own characteristics and attack vectors.
  • To prevent XSS attacks, developers should implement proper input validation and output encoding, use security libraries or frameworks that mitigate XSS, and follow secure coding practices.

Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)

  • CSRF is a vulnerability that occurs when an attacker tricks a user into performing an unintended action on a different website without the user’s knowledge or consent.
  • The attacker typically crafts a malicious webpage or email that contains a request to perform an action on a target website where the victim is already authenticated (e.g., changing account settings or making a financial transaction).
  • When the victim visits the malicious webpage or opens the email, their browser automatically sends the request to the target website, as the victim is already authenticated, potentially leading to actions being performed on their behalf.
  • CSRF attacks rely on the trust that a website has in the user’s browser, as it cannot distinguish between a legitimate user-initiated request and a forged request.
  • To prevent CSRF attacks, developers should use anti-CSRF tokens in their web applications. These tokens are generated for each user session and must be included with each request that modifies the server’s state. This way, even if an attacker tricks a user into making a request, they won’t have the corresponding token, and the request will be rejected.


They differ in their attack vectors, impacts, prevention methods, and mitigation techniques.

Difference Between XSS and CSRF

Below table provides an overview of the key differences between Cross-Site Scripting and Cross-Site Request Forgery attacks on various aspects.

AspectCross-Site Scripting (XSS)Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)
DefinitionInjection of malicious scripts into web contentUnauthorized execution of actions on behalf of a user
Attack VectorManipulating input fields to insert malicious codeExploiting user’s authenticated session
TargetUsers’ browsers and their interactionsUser’s session and actions on a specific site
Impact– Data theft
– Account hijacking
– Malware distribution
– Defacement of websites
– Unauthorized actions
– Data manipulation
– Account compromise
– Malicious transactions
Execution ContextClient-side (in the user’s browser)Server-side (through user’s authenticated session)
Types– Stored XSS
– Reflected XSS
– DOM-based XSS
– Non-persistent (GET-based) CSRF
– Persistent (POST-based) CSRF
PrevalenceStill a common threatDecreased due to awareness and preventive measures
Prevention– Input validation and encoding
– Content Security Policy (CSP)
– Escaping output
– Anti-CSRF tokens (CSRF tokens)
– SameSite cookie attribute
– Referer header checking
MitigationRegular security testing and code reviewStrictly validating and sanitizing user inputs
User InteractionRequires users to visit an attacker-controlled siteExploits user’s authenticated session
AuthenticationDoes not require authentication bypassRequires bypassing user’s existing authentication
User ConsentNo need for user actionRelies on user being tricked into an unwanted action
Attacker’s GoalsExecute malicious scripts in user’s browserPerform actions on a site using user’s identity
Examples– Displaying fake login forms
– Defacing websites
– Stealing cookies
– Changing user’s email/password
– Making unauthorized transactions
– Modifying account settings
Visibility to UserScripts can modify visible content in the browserUsers might not notice actions performed silently
Security MechanismsWeb Application Firewalls (WAFs) can help detect and preventUtilizing CSRF tokens
– Implementing SameSite attribute
– Checking Referer header
Exploitation DifficultyDepends on the vulnerability’s complexityDepends on security measures in place
Affected ComponentsWeb forms, URLs, cookies, and local storageActions that trigger state-changing requests
Browser Security FeaturesCross-Origin Resource Sharing (CORS)
– Content Security Policy (CSP)
Cookie restrictions
– SameSite attribute
Legal ImplicationsPrivacy and data breach regulations may applyUnauthorized actions leading to legal consequences
Examples of Attacks– Stealing session cookies through JavaScript
– Defacing websites with injected content
– Changing account password via crafted URL
– Initiating unauthorized funds transfer


In summary, Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) and Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) are distinct web vulnerabilities that target different aspects of web applications. XSS attacks focus on injecting malicious scripts into web content to manipulate users’ browsers, while CSRF attacks exploit the trust established between a user’s browser and a web application to perform unauthorized actions.

Both vulnerabilities have the potential to cause severe damage, but they require different mitigation strategies due to their varying attack vectors. It’s crucial for web developers and security professionals to be aware of these differences and implement proper preventive measures to protect against both XSS and CSRF threats.

Regular security testing, input validation, proper encoding, and staying updated with the latest security mechanisms are key steps in ensuring the security and integrity of web applications.

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