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Improper Access Control

ID: 284Date: (C)2012-05-14   (M)2018-03-09
Type: weaknessStatus: INCOMPLETE
Abstraction Type: Class


The software does not restrict or incorrectly restricts access to a resource from an unauthorized actor.

Extended Description

Access control involves the use of several protection mechanisms such as authentication (proving the identity of an actor) authorization (ensuring that a given actor can access a resource), and accountability (tracking of activities that were performed). When any mechanism is not applied or otherwise fails, attackers can compromise the security of the software by gaining privileges, reading sensitive information, executing commands, evading detection, etc.

There are two distinct behaviors that can introduce access control weaknesses:

Specification: incorrect privileges, permissions, ownership, etc. are explicitly specified for either the user or the resource (for example, setting a password file to be world-writable, or giving administrator capabilities to a guest user). This action could be performed by the program or the administrator.

Enforcement: the mechanism contains errors that prevent it from properly enforcing the specified access control requirements (e.g., allowing the user to specify their own privileges, or allowing a syntactically-incorrect ACL to produce insecure settings). This problem occurs within the program itself, in that it does not actually enforce the intended security policy that the administrator specifies.

Applicable Platforms

Time Of Introduction

  • Architecture and Design
  • Implementation
  • Operation

Related Attack Patterns

Common Consequences

ScopeTechnical ImpactNotes
Varies by context

Detection Methods

Potential Mitigations

Architecture and Design
 Very carefully manage the setting, management, and handling of privileges. Explicitly manage trust zones in the software.
Architecture and Design
Separation of Privilege
Compartmentalize the system to have "safe" areas where trust boundaries can be unambiguously drawn. Do not allow sensitive data to go outside of the trust boundary and always be careful when interfacing with a compartment outside of the safe area.
Ensure that appropriate compartmentalization is built into the system design and that the compartmentalization serves to allow for and further reinforce privilege separation functionality. Architects and designers should rely on the principle of least privilege to decide when it is appropriate to use and to drop system privileges.


Related CWETypeViewChain
CWE-284 ChildOf CWE-899 Category CWE-888  

Demonstrative Examples

White Box Definitions

Black Box Definitions

Taxynomy Mappings

PLOVER  Access Control List (ACL) errors
Insufficient Authorization


  1. M. Howard D. LeBlanc .Writing Secure Code 2nd Edition. Microsoft. Section:'Chapter 6, "Determining Appropriate Access Control" Page 171'. Published on 2002.
  2. Michael Howard David LeBlanc John Viega .24 Deadly Sins of Software Security. McGraw-Hill. Section:'"Sin 17: Failure to Protect Stored Data." Page 253'. Published on 2010.

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