Capybara for automating Pen-Tests

After a successful penetration test a re-test is performed. The common approach is that the customer fixes the code and I perform the necessary steps to confirm that that initial security breach was closed. Sometimes it takes the customer a couple of tries to achieve that.

Most security problems (XSS, CSRF, SQLi) can easily be automated tested, but I had problems automating server-side authentication and authorization problems. The test would have to emulate multiple parallel user sessions. The tests mostly consists of one session trying to access the resources of another user session.

Seems like a good match for Capybara and Poltergeist.

Capybara and PhantomJS Setup

Capybara is a driver-agnostic website testing framework (or rather DSL) and is mostly used for acceptence testing in Ruby on Rails. Poltergeist is a phantomjs/webkit-based driver backend for capybara.

Let's look at a simple test patch script that performs a login at, initally we need to perform some setup and create a session:

require 'capybara'
require 'capybara/dsl'
require 'capybara/poltergeist'

Capybara.register_driver :poltergeist do |app|, js_errors: false)

Capybara.default_driver = :poltergeist
Capybara.run_server = false
Capybara.app_host = ''

session = :poltergeist

Some notes:

  • you need to pass "js_errors: false", otherwise poltergeist would stop at the first javascript error. This is due to it's original use case as application testing aid
  • capybara-webkit is a viable alternative to phantomjs. It is more resistent to defective pages (for example it ignores javascript errors by default and is able to cope with rather exotic javascripts) but alas is slower than phantomjs

Login to a site using Capybara

def login(session, username, password)
  session.visit "/musterdepot/"
  session.click_button "Zum Login"

  session.within("#formular") do
    session.fill_in "USERNAME", with: username
    session.fill_in "PASSWORD", with: password
    session.click_button "Login"

# now the test begins

login(session, "some-user", "some-password")

# save a screenshot of the current browser window

# or open the page within a browser

Mini::Test integraton

This would already be enough for creating a one-shot test case. But in reality faulty web applications that have problems with server-side authentication and/or authorization all over the place. Writing the whole test setup code over and over again ain't the best use of time.

I've created a simple minitest_helper gist that can be included from a minitest. This should reduce the setup code quite a bit.

A sample test suite could be:

require_relative 'test_helper'

class CapybaraMiniTest < PenTest::TestCase

  def setup
    Capybara.app_host = ''

  def test_snikt
    page.has_content?("Andreas Happe")

  def test_multiple_sessions
    session1 =
    session2 =


Where to go from here?

Now that we have a simple minitest-based test suite we can easily extend it with addtional functionality. Ideas in my head include:

  • utilizing pry-rescue to automatically drop into a debug console in case of errors
  • try different backend drivers (for example selenium should be slower but it supports almost all relevant browsers.
  • write capybara helpers for common tasks
  • maybe even write Cucumber cukes to make test-cases readable for customers
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