Last updated: October 14, 2021
Read time: 6 Minutes
Burp Scanner automatically handles sessions during crawling and crawl-driven auditing. Session handling rules will not be applied to requests made by these kind of scans.
Session handling challenges
When performing any kind of testing of web applications, you may encounter challenges relating to session handling and state. For example:
- The application may terminate the session being used for testing, either defensively or for other reasons, so that subsequent requests are ineffective until the session is restored.
- Some functions may use changing tokens that must be supplied with each request (for example, to hinder request forgery attacks).
- Some functions may require a series of other requests to be made before the request being tested, to get the application into a suitable state for it to accept the request being tested.
These challenges may arise when carrying out automated testing tasks, such as fuzzing or scanning, and may also arise when you are testing manually.
Burp's session handling functionality contains a range of features to help in all of these situations, letting you continue your manual and automated testing while Burp takes care of the problems for you in the background.
Session handling rules
Burp lets you define a list of session handling rules, giving you very fine-grained control over how Burp deals with an application's session handling mechanism and related functionality.
Each rule comprises a scope (what the rule applies to) and actions (what the rule does). For every outgoing request that Burp makes, it determines which of the defined rules are in-scope for the request, and performs all of those rules' actions in order (unless a condition-checking action determines that no further actions should be applied to the request).
The scope for each rule can be defined based on any or all of the following features of the request being processed:
- The Burp tool that is making the request.
- The URL of the request.
- The names of parameters within the request.
Each rule can perform one or more actions, such as:
- Updating cookies from Burp's cookie jar.
- Validating the current session.
- Running a macro (predefined sequence of requests).
By creating multiple rules with different scopes and actions, you can define a hierarchy of behavior that Burp will apply to different applications and functions. For example, on a particular test you could define the following rules:
- For all requests, add cookies from Burp's cookie jar.
- For requests to a specific domain, validate that the current session with that application is still active, and if not, run a macro to log back in to the application, and update the cookie jar with the resulting session token.
For requests to a specific URL containing the
__csrftokenparameter, first run a macro to obtain a valid
__csrftokenvalue, and use this when making the request.
For more details of configuring session handling rules, see the Session handling rule editor help.
Session handling tracer
The configuration needed to apply Burp's session handling functionality to the features of real-world applications is often complex, and mistakes are easily made. You can use the session handling tracer to assist with troubleshooting your session handling configuration.
The tracer shows a listing of every request that has been handled by the session handling functionality (that is, where at least one session rule has been applied). For each handled request, the tracer shows the sequence of rules and actions that were carried out, and the changes made to the current request at each step in the sequence.
Note that the session handling tracer imposes a processing and storage overhead on all affected HTTP requests. You should only use the tracer when troubleshooting issues with session handling rules, and should not leave it running generally.
Burp maintains a cookie jar that stores all of the cookies issued by web sites you visit. The cookie jar is shared between all of Burp's tools.
You can configure which tools the cookie jar should monitor in order to update cookies. By default, the cookie jar is updated based on traffic from the Proxy and Spider tools. Burp monitors responses received by the configured tools, and updates the cookie jar with any new cookies that are set. In the case of the Proxy, incoming requests from the browser are also inspected. This is useful where an application has previously set a persistent cookie which is present in your browser, and which is required for proper handling of your session. Having Burp update its cookie jar based on requests through the Proxy means that all the necessary cookies will be added to the cookie jar even if the application does not update the value of this cookie during your current visit.
You can also view the contents of the cookie jar and edit cookies manually, using the "Open cookie jar" button.
The cookie jar honors the domain and path scope of cookies, in a way that mimics Internet Explorer's interpretation of cookie handling specifications.
A macro is a predefined sequence of one or more requests. You can use macros within session handling rules to perform various tasks. Typical use cases for macros include:
- Fetching a page of the application (such as the user's home page) to check that the current session is still valid.
- Performing a login to obtain a new valid session.
- Obtaining a token or nonce to use as a parameter in another request.
- When scanning or fuzzing a request in a multi-step process, performing the necessary preceding requests, to get the application into a state where the targeted request will be accepted.
- In a multi-step process, after the "attack" request, completing the remaining steps of the process, to confirm the action being performed, or obtain the result or error message from the conclusion of that process.
As well as the basic sequence of requests, each macro includes some important configuration about how cookies and parameters in the sequence should be handled, and any interdependencies between items.
For more details of configuring macros, see the Macro editor help.
Integration with Burp tools
Burp's session handling features interact with Burp's other functionality in some important ways:
- There is a default session handling rule that updates requests made by the Scanner with cookies from Burp's cookie jar, except when the Scanner is managing its own sessions (during crawling and crawl-driven auditing). If this is not the behavior you require, you should disable the default session handling rule before performing any scanning.
- In cases where session handling rules modify a request before it is made (for example, to update a cookie or other parameter), some of Burp's tools will show the final, updated request, for purposes of clarity. This applies to the Intruder, Repeater and Spider tools. Requests that are shown within reported Scanner issues continue to show the original request, to facilitate clear comparison with the base request, where necessary. To observe the final request for a scan issue, as modified by the session handler, you can send the request to Burp Repeater and issue it there (provided you have the same session handling rules enabled for Repeater as for Scanner).
When the Scanner or Intruder makes a request that manipulates a cookie or parameter that is affected by a session handling action, the action is not applied to that request, to avoid interfering with the test that is being performed. For example, if you are using Intruder to fuzz all the parameters in a request, and you have configured a session handing rule to update the
sessidcookie in that request, then the
sessidcookie will be updated when Intruder is fuzzing other parameters. When Intruder is fuzzing the
sessidcookie itself, Burp will send the Intruder payload string as the
sessidvalue, and the session handling rule will not update the cookie as is done normally.