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re: LocalStorage vs Cookies: All You Need To Know About Storing JWT Tokens Securely in The Front-End VIEW POST

FULL DISCUSSION
 

The part of this discussion I always stumble over is when it is recommended to "just" use anti-CSRF tokens. This is a non-trivial requirement. It is easy for one server -- most of them have built-in libs just like with JWT authentication. However, unlike JWT authentication it is a stateful process. So once you go beyond a single API server (including a fail-over scenario) you have to externalize the issued CSRF tokens into something like Redis (or a DB if you don't mind even more added latency). So all servers can be aware of the issued tokens. This adds another infrastructure piece that needs to be maintained and scaled for load. Edit: I guess people already using session servers are thinking "So what, we already have Redis to track user sessions." But with JWT, user sessions are stateless (just the token they provide and you validate) so this extra infrastructure isn't needed. That's a maintenance cost eliminated.

As far as local storage being vulnerable to XSS attacks, OWASP also puts out an XSS Prevention Cheat Sheet. The main attack vector for XSS is when you allow users to directly input HTML/JS and then execute it. Most major frameworks already santize user inputs to prevent this.

Modern JavaScript frameworks have pretty good XSS protection built in.

  • OWASP XSS Prevention Cheat Sheet

The less common threat that you mentioned was NPM libraries becoming subverted to include XSS attacks. NPM has added auditing tools to report this and warn users. (Edit: Fair point is that people sometimes still use JS libs from CDNs, which may have less scrutiny.) And also Content Security Policy is supported in all major browsers and can prevent attacks and the exfil of token/data even if a script on your site gets compromised. It does not necessarily prevent the compromised script from making calls to your own API. But they would have to be targeting your API specifically to accomplish much.

I completely understand the recommendation to use cookies + Secure + HttpOnly + anti-forgery tokens from a security perspective. And as far as I am aware it is superior security to JWT in local storage. But it also has pretty significant constraints. And local storage is not bad, security-wise. It is isolated by domain. XSS attacks are already heavily mitigated by just using a modern JS framework and paying attention to NPM audit warnings. Throw in CSP for good measure. And of course not going out of your way to evaluate user-entered data as HTML/JS/CSS. (If your site functionality requires this, then you probably should use cookie auth and CSP.)

 

Hi Kasey, thanks for your comment! I do agree that localStorage is not bad at all, and considering how XSS attacks are already heavily mitigated as you mentioned, it's a valid option.

 

Hey thanks for the response! Best wishes.

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