What is URL Manipulation or URL Rewriting?

There are millions of web pages on the internet, each with a unique Uniform Resource Locator or URL that hackers can modify to attempt cyberattacks. Learn what URL rewriting is and the best practices to stop it.

 

What is a URL? How is it Structured?

URL, also called a web address, tells us the specific location of online sources like webpages, videos, social media posts, Word Docs, Spreadsheets, etc. 

URL example: https://easydmarc.com/blog/

A URL can’t be more than 2,083 characters long and has five parts as explained below.

First Part

The first part is called the protocol and indicates the network of the language used. HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocols Secure) and FTP (File Transfer Protocol) are the most used protocols.

Second Part

The next part is an ID and password, which are typically removed to avoid cyberattacks as they can be publicly visible and transferred. 

Third Part

The third part of a URL consists of a server name that lets users read information shared on specific servers. This is in synchronization with a domain name or IP address linked with the server.

Fourth Part

The fourth part is a port number linked to a service and indicates the type of resources requested. Port 80 is the default port number.

Fifth Part

Lastly, the fifth path allows users to access resources associated with the domain or IP directly.

 

How does URL Rewriting Work?

So, what is URL rewriting? In URL rewriting, a URL is modified for different purposes. It can help websites get a higher SEO ranking, but hackers can use this trick to redirect users to fraudulent websites. 

Amazon used the URL rewriting technique to create meaningful and relevant URLs that helped them get 300% more top results positions. The idea behind benevolent URL manipulation is to create simpler URLs so that users don’t have to remember, manually enter, or copy-paste covert character strings.

However, threat actors use URL manipulation to access webpages on servers they usually can’t access. They use the trial and error method to test websites for vulnerabilities they can exploit to enter a system. 

Cybercriminals typically use URL manipulation to examine directories and file extensions, read sensitive information, and access privilege-protected sections of a website, including hidden files and source scripts. If successful, attackers can gain total control of a website.

 

Why do Hackers Manipulate URLs?

Professional hackers use URL rewriting in Java and other languages to corrupt websites, redirect users, and steal confidential data. The website can also infect your devices with malware or ask you to submit sensitive details related to banking, medical history, etc.

Malicious actors can also use URL rewriting tactics to commit directory traversal attacks by altering the three structure paths of a targeted URL. This propels the server to access unauthorized elements of a website.

 

How to Stop URL Rewriting Attacks?

Businesses must understand how to prevent URL manipulation by taking care of the following. 

  • Regularly apply patches released by web server publishers.
  • Stop the access of pages located below the website’s root. 
  • Turn off directory browsing.
  • Get rid of unnecessary and hidden directories and files.
  • Get in touch with cybersecurity experts. 

Final Thoughts

URL manipulation or URL rewriting is a technique to modify URLs for various reasons. While Amazon SEO experts practice it to get higher rankings on search engines, hackers attempt it for nefarious purposes. They use URL manipulation to access unauthorized elements of a website and alter or steal private data, including users’ personal data they can exploit for financial gain.

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