I'm curious if there is a way to execute XSS via email.

I am not talking about using e-mail as a way to deliver a link that has reflected XSS in it.

I'm talking about sending an email from example.com and having javascript in that e-mail that executes as if it is executing on http://example.com (i.e. gets passed the browser same-origin policy and can read the response of an xmlhttprequest).

The first answer talks about sending an email from example.com to a user of gmail.com that could be used to attack gmail.com. It also mentions problems in Thunderbird but doesn't clarify if those would allow attacks on example.com (i.e. the origin of the mails) or somewhere else.

2 Answers 2


The answer to your question is "Yes", but you're asking it wrong. Nowadays XSS via email is only really relevant when reading an email with a web browser. Modern mail clients no longer parse scripts by default.

The mail service in which you're reading the email (as the target/victim) would need to have an available XSS injection point for an attacker to take advantage. This has been seen before in more than a couple services, but is still easily and quickly fixed, so the problem is rare.

You mentioned that the email was coming from @example.com, but that is of no concern to any possible attack. In the past I've primarily seen the issue arise when the mail service improperly filters mail headers or user info that then allows code injection.

And to address the last part of your question: Your code will be executing under the domain of the mail service it's being run under. It would only be able to execute under example.com if you also found a XSS vuln in example.com and were able to call that from the mail service XSS injection.


Yes, this is a very serious concern when it comes to reading your email via a web browser. In fact gmail has had this happen a few different ways. In a broader sense, XSS within an email could be used to spread an email based worm. The XSS payload has access to your list of contacts and the also the ability to send email as you. This is similar to the Sammy XSS Worm.

When it comes to a client like, Outlook or Thunderbird this really isn't much of a concern because the context in which the script executes is mostly useless to the attacker. Although this type of vulnerability has happened and this type of XSS could be useful for delivering a client-side exploit such as a html or javascript based buffer overflow. The pairing of XSS in thunderbird with a buffer overflow would lead to a very nasty email worm.

  • 5
    This is especially troubling because tools such as NoScript will happily allow the javascript to run because it is being served from a domain you trust.
    – Ladadadada
    Mar 10, 2012 at 8:18
  • I think this mostly answers my question by exclusion (it's a tough topic to describe). I'm updating my question to try to make it more direct. Thanks for the answer so far!
    – greggles
    Mar 12, 2012 at 21:11
  • @greggles i am not sure what you mean. The img onload exploit is exactly what you described, and that is worm-able. This is an email that contains javascript and is executed when it is viewed.
    – rook
    Mar 12, 2012 at 21:21
  • 1
    +1, but it should be noted that as of today, Gmail does sanitize (or attempt to santize) any scripts in email. If you do happen to find a 0-day vector, it probably wont remain open long...
    – AviD
    Mar 13, 2012 at 11:33
  • 1
    @Rook - the img onload exploit may be what I described, but I'm afraid I don't follow the full attack scenario. If you could lay out the attack scenario it would be helpful to me. i.e. which domain sends the mail, which domain(s) are vulnerable, and whose responsibility is it to filter the javascript?
    – greggles
    Mar 13, 2012 at 13:34

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