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Common Weakness Enumeration

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CWE-22: Improper Limitation of a Pathname to a Restricted Directory ('Path Traversal')

 
Improper Limitation of a Pathname to a Restricted Directory ('Path Traversal')
Weakness ID: 22 (Weakness Class)Status: Draft
+ Description

Description Summary

The software uses external input to construct a pathname that is intended to identify a file or directory that is located underneath a restricted parent directory, but the software does not properly neutralize special elements within the pathname that can cause the pathname to resolve to a location that is outside of the restricted directory.

Extended Description

Many file operations are intended to take place within a restricted directory. By using special elements such as ".." and "/" separators, attackers can escape outside of the restricted location to access files or directories that are elsewhere on the system. One of the most common special elements is the "../" sequence, which in most modern operating systems is interpreted as the parent directory of the current location. This is referred to as relative path traversal. Path traversal also covers the use of absolute pathnames such as "/usr/local/bin", which may also be useful in accessing unexpected files. This is referred to as absolute path traversal.

In many programming languages, the injection of a null byte (the 0 or NUL) may allow an attacker to truncate a generated filename to widen the scope of attack. For example, the software may add ".txt" to any pathname, thus limiting the attacker to text files, but a null injection may effectively remove this restriction.

+ Alternate Terms
Directory traversal
Path traversal:

"Path traversal" is preferred over "directory traversal," but both terms are attack-focused.

+ Terminology Notes

Like other weaknesses, terminology is often based on the types of manipulations used, instead of the underlying weaknesses. Some people use "directory traversal" only to refer to the injection of ".." and equivalent sequences whose specific meaning is to traverse directories.

Other variants like "absolute pathname" and "drive letter" have the *effect* of directory traversal, but some people may not call it such, since it doesn't involve ".." or equivalent.

+ Time of Introduction
  • Architecture and Design
  • Implementation
+ Applicable Platforms

Languages

Language-independent

+ Common Consequences
ScopeEffect
Integrity
Confidentiality
Availability

Technical Impact: Execute unauthorized code or commands

The attacker may be able to create or overwrite critical files that are used to execute code, such as programs or libraries.

Integrity

Technical Impact: Modify files or directories

The attacker may be able to overwrite or create critical files, such as programs, libraries, or important data. If the targeted file is used for a security mechanism, then the attacker may be able to bypass that mechanism. For example, appending a new account at the end of a password file may allow an attacker to bypass authentication.

Confidentiality

Technical Impact: Read files or directories

The attacker may be able read the contents of unexpected files and expose sensitive data. If the targeted file is used for a security mechanism, then the attacker may be able to bypass that mechanism. For example, by reading a password file, the attacker could conduct brute force password guessing attacks in order to break into an account on the system.

Availability

Technical Impact: DoS: crash / exit / restart

The attacker may be able to overwrite, delete, or corrupt unexpected critical files such as programs, libraries, or important data. This may prevent the software from working at all and in the case of a protection mechanisms such as authentication, it has the potential to lockout every user of the software.

+ Likelihood of Exploit

High to Very High

+ Detection Methods

Automated Static Analysis

Automated techniques can find areas where path traversal weaknesses exist. However, tuning or customization may be required to remove or de-prioritize path-traversal problems that are only exploitable by the software's administrator - or other privileged users - and thus potentially valid behavior or, at worst, a bug instead of a vulnerability.

Effectiveness: High

Manual Static Analysis

Manual white box techniques may be able to provide sufficient code coverage and reduction of false positives if all file access operations can be assessed within limited time constraints.

Effectiveness: High

+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

The following code could be for a social networking application in which each user's profile information is stored in a separate file. All files are stored in a single directory.

(Bad Code)
Example Language: Perl 
my $dataPath = "/users/cwe/profiles";
my $username = param("user");
my $profilePath = $dataPath . "/" . $username;

open(my $fh, "<$profilePath") || ExitError("profile read error: $profilePath");
print "<ul>\n";
while (<$fh>) {
print "<li>$_</li>\n";
}
print "</ul>\n";

While the programmer intends to access files such as "/users/cwe/profiles/alice" or "/users/cwe/profiles/bob", there is no verification of the incoming user parameter. An attacker could provide a string such as:

(Attack)
 
../../../etc/passwd

The program would generate a profile pathname like this:

(Result)
 
/users/cwe/profiles/../../../etc/passwd

When the file is opened, the operating system resolves the "../" during path canonicalization and actually accesses this file:

(Result)
 
/etc/passwd

As a result, the attacker could read the entire text of the password file.

Notice how this code also contains an error message information leak (CWE-209) if the user parameter does not produce a file that exists: the full pathname is provided. Because of the lack of output encoding of the file that is retrieved, there might also be a cross-site scripting problem (CWE-79) if profile contains any HTML, but other code would need to be examined.

Example 2

In the example below, the path to a dictionary file is read from a system property and used to initialize a File object.

(Bad Code)
Example Language: Java 
String filename = System.getProperty("com.domain.application.dictionaryFile");
File dictionaryFile = new File(filename);

However, the path is not validated or modified to prevent it from containing relative or absolute path sequences before creating the File object. This allows anyone who can control the system property to determine what file is used. Ideally, the path should be resolved relative to some kind of application or user home directory.

Example 3

The following code takes untrusted input and uses a regular expression to filter "../" from the input. It then appends this result to the /home/user/ directory and attempts to read the file in the final resulting path.

(Bad Code)
Example Language: Perl 
my $Username = GetUntrustedInput();
$Username =~ s/\.\.\///;
my $filename = "/home/user/" . $Username;
ReadAndSendFile($filename);

Since the regular expression does not have the /g global match modifier, it only removes the first instance of "../" it comes across. So an input value such as:

(Attack)
 
../../../etc/passwd

will have the first "../" stripped, resulting in:

(Result)
 
../../etc/passwd

This value is then concatenated with the /home/user/ directory:

(Result)
 
/home/user/../../etc/passwd

which causes the /etc/passwd file to be retrieved once the operating system has resolved the ../ sequences in the pathname. This leads to relative path traversal (CWE-23).

Example 4

The following code attempts to validate a given input path by checking it against a white list and once validated delete the given file. In this specific case, the path is considered valid if it starts with the string "/safe_dir/".

(Bad Code)
Example Language: Java 
String path = getInputPath();
if (path.startsWith("/safe_dir/"))
{
File f = new File(path);
f.delete()
}

An attacker could provide an input such as this:

(Attack)
 
/safe_dir/../important.dat

The software assumes that the path is valid because it starts with the "/safe_path/" sequence, but the "../" sequence will cause the program to delete the important.dat file in the parent directory

Example 5

The following code demonstrates the unrestricted upload of a file with a Java servlet and a path traversal vulnerability. The HTML code is the same as in the previous example with the action attribute of the form sending the upload file request to the Java servlet instead of the PHP code.

(Good Code)
Example Language: HTML 
<form action="FileUploadServlet" method="post" enctype="multipart/form-data">

Choose a file to upload:
<input type="file" name="filename"/>
<br/>
<input type="submit" name="submit" value="Submit"/>

</form>

When submitted the Java servlet's doPost method will receive the request, extract the name of the file from the Http request header, read the file contents from the request and output the file to the local upload directory.

(Bad Code)
Example Language: Java 
public class FileUploadServlet extends HttpServlet {

...

protected void doPost(HttpServletRequest request, HttpServletResponse response) throws ServletException, IOException {

response.setContentType("text/html");
PrintWriter out = response.getWriter();
String contentType = request.getContentType();

// the starting position of the boundary header
int ind = contentType.indexOf("boundary=");
String boundary = contentType.substring(ind+9);

String pLine = new String();
String uploadLocation = new String(UPLOAD_DIRECTORY_STRING); //Constant value

// verify that content type is multipart form data
if (contentType != null && contentType.indexOf("multipart/form-data") != -1) {

// extract the filename from the Http header
BufferedReader br = new BufferedReader(new InputStreamReader(request.getInputStream()));
...
pLine = br.readLine();
String filename = pLine.substring(pLine.lastIndexOf("\\"), pLine.lastIndexOf("\""));
...

// output the file to the local upload directory
try {
BufferedWriter bw = new BufferedWriter(new FileWriter(uploadLocation+filename, true));
for (String line; (line=br.readLine())!=null; ) {
if (line.indexOf(boundary) == -1) {
bw.write(line);
bw.newLine();
bw.flush();
}
} //end of for loop
bw.close();

} catch (IOException ex) {...}
// output successful upload response HTML page
}
// output unsuccessful upload response HTML page
else
{...}
}
...
}

This code does not check the filename that is provided in the header, so an attacker can use "../" sequences to write to files outside of the intended directory. Depending on the executing environment, the attacker may be able to specify arbitrary files to write to, leading to a wide variety of consequences, from code execution, XSS (CWE-79), or system crash.

Also, this code does not perform a check on the type of the file being uploaded. This could allow an attacker to upload any executable file or other file with malicious code (CWE-434).

+ Observed Examples
ReferenceDescription
CVE-2010-0467Newsletter module allows reading arbitrary files using "../" sequences.
CVE-2009-4194 FTP server allows deletion of arbitrary files using ".." in the DELE command.
CVE-2009-4053 FTP server allows creation of arbitrary directories using ".." in the MKD command.
CVE-2009-0244 OBEX FTP service for a Bluetooth device allows listing of directories, and creation or reading of files using ".." sequences..
CVE-2009-4013Software package maintenance program allows overwriting arbitrary files using "../" sequences.
CVE-2009-4449Bulletin board allows attackers to determine the existence of files using the avatar.
CVE-2009-4581PHP program allows arbitrary code execution using ".." in filenames that are fed to the include() function.
CVE-2010-0012Overwrite of files using a .. in a Torrent file.
CVE-2010-0013Chat program allows overwriting files using a custom smiley request.
CVE-2008-5748Chain: external control of values for user's desired language and theme enables path traversal.
CVE-2009-1936chain: library file sends a redirect if it is directly requested but continues to execute, allowing remote file inclusion and path traversal.
+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Implementation

Strategy: Input Validation

Assume all input is malicious. Use an "accept known good" input validation strategy, i.e., use a whitelist of acceptable inputs that strictly conform to specifications. Reject any input that does not strictly conform to specifications, or transform it into something that does.

When performing input validation, consider all potentially relevant properties, including length, type of input, the full range of acceptable values, missing or extra inputs, syntax, consistency across related fields, and conformance to business rules. As an example of business rule logic, "boat" may be syntactically valid because it only contains alphanumeric characters, but it is not valid if the input is only expected to contain colors such as "red" or "blue."

Do not rely exclusively on looking for malicious or malformed inputs (i.e., do not rely on a blacklist). A blacklist is likely to miss at least one undesirable input, especially if the code's environment changes. This can give attackers enough room to bypass the intended validation. However, blacklists can be useful for detecting potential attacks or determining which inputs are so malformed that they should be rejected outright.

When validating filenames, use stringent whitelists that limit the character set to be used. If feasible, only allow a single "." character in the filename to avoid weaknesses such as CWE-23, and exclude directory separators such as "/" to avoid CWE-36. Use a whitelist of allowable file extensions, which will help to avoid CWE-434.

Do not rely exclusively on a filtering mechanism that removes potentially dangerous characters. This is equivalent to a blacklist, which may be incomplete (CWE-184). For example, filtering "/" is insufficient protection if the filesystem also supports the use of "\" as a directory separator. Another possible error could occur when the filtering is applied in a way that still produces dangerous data (CWE-182). For example, if "../" sequences are removed from the ".../...//" string in a sequential fashion, two instances of "../" would be removed from the original string, but the remaining characters would still form the "../" string.

Phase: Architecture and Design

For any security checks that are performed on the client side, ensure that these checks are duplicated on the server side, in order to avoid CWE-602. Attackers can bypass the client-side checks by modifying values after the checks have been performed, or by changing the client to remove the client-side checks entirely. Then, these modified values would be submitted to the server.

Phase: Implementation

Strategy: Input Validation

Inputs should be decoded and canonicalized to the application's current internal representation before being validated (CWE-180). Make sure that the application does not decode the same input twice (CWE-174). Such errors could be used to bypass whitelist validation schemes by introducing dangerous inputs after they have been checked.

Use a built-in path canonicalization function (such as realpath() in C) that produces the canonical version of the pathname, which effectively removes ".." sequences and symbolic links (CWE-23, CWE-59). This includes:

  • realpath() in C

  • getCanonicalPath() in Java

  • GetFullPath() in ASP.NET

  • realpath() or abs_path() in Perl

  • realpath() in PHP

Phase: Architecture and Design

Strategy: Libraries or Frameworks

Use a vetted library or framework that does not allow this weakness to occur or provides constructs that make this weakness easier to avoid.

Phase: Operation

Strategy: Firewall

Use an application firewall that can detect attacks against this weakness. It can be beneficial in cases in which the code cannot be fixed (because it is controlled by a third party), as an emergency prevention measure while more comprehensive software assurance measures are applied, or to provide defense in depth.

Effectiveness: Moderate

An application firewall might not cover all possible input vectors. In addition, attack techniques might be available to bypass the protection mechanism, such as using malformed inputs that can still be processed by the component that receives those inputs. Depending on functionality, an application firewall might inadvertently reject or modify legitimate requests. Finally, some manual effort may be required for customization.

Phases: Architecture and Design; Operation

Strategy: Environment Hardening

Run your code using the lowest privileges that are required to accomplish the necessary tasks [R.22.5]. If possible, create isolated accounts with limited privileges that are only used for a single task. That way, a successful attack will not immediately give the attacker access to the rest of the software or its environment. For example, database applications rarely need to run as the database administrator, especially in day-to-day operations.

Phase: Architecture and Design

Strategy: Enforcement by Conversion

When the set of acceptable objects, such as filenames or URLs, is limited or known, create a mapping from a set of fixed input values (such as numeric IDs) to the actual filenames or URLs, and reject all other inputs.

For example, ID 1 could map to "inbox.txt" and ID 2 could map to "profile.txt". Features such as the ESAPI AccessReferenceMap [R.22.3] provide this capability.

Phases: Architecture and Design; Operation

Strategy: Sandbox or Jail

Run the code in a "jail" or similar sandbox environment that enforces strict boundaries between the process and the operating system. This may effectively restrict which files can be accessed in a particular directory or which commands can be executed by the software.

OS-level examples include the Unix chroot jail, AppArmor, and SELinux. In general, managed code may provide some protection. For example, java.io.FilePermission in the Java SecurityManager allows the software to specify restrictions on file operations.

This may not be a feasible solution, and it only limits the impact to the operating system; the rest of the application may still be subject to compromise.

Be careful to avoid CWE-243 and other weaknesses related to jails.

Effectiveness: Limited

The effectiveness of this mitigation depends on the prevention capabilities of the specific sandbox or jail being used and might only help to reduce the scope of an attack, such as restricting the attacker to certain system calls or limiting the portion of the file system that can be accessed.

Phases: Architecture and Design; Operation

Strategy: Identify and Reduce Attack Surface

Store library, include, and utility files outside of the web document root, if possible. Otherwise, store them in a separate directory and use the web server's access control capabilities to prevent attackers from directly requesting them. One common practice is to define a fixed constant in each calling program, then check for the existence of the constant in the library/include file; if the constant does not exist, then the file was directly requested, and it can exit immediately.

This significantly reduces the chance of an attacker being able to bypass any protection mechanisms that are in the base program but not in the include files. It will also reduce the attack surface.

Phase: Implementation

Ensure that error messages only contain minimal details that are useful to the intended audience, and nobody else. The messages need to strike the balance between being too cryptic and not being cryptic enough. They should not necessarily reveal the methods that were used to determine the error. Such detailed information can be used to refine the original attack to increase the chances of success.

If errors must be tracked in some detail, capture them in log messages - but consider what could occur if the log messages can be viewed by attackers. Avoid recording highly sensitive information such as passwords in any form. Avoid inconsistent messaging that might accidentally tip off an attacker about internal state, such as whether a username is valid or not.

In the context of path traversal, error messages which disclose path information can help attackers craft the appropriate attack strings to move through the file system hierarchy.

Phases: Operation; Implementation

Strategy: Environment Hardening

When using PHP, configure the application so that it does not use register_globals. During implementation, develop the application so that it does not rely on this feature, but be wary of implementing a register_globals emulation that is subject to weaknesses such as CWE-95, CWE-621, and similar issues.

+ Other Notes

Incomplete diagnosis or reporting of vulnerabilities can make it difficult to know which variant is affected. For example, a researcher might say that "..\" is vulnerable, but not test "../" which may also be vulnerable.

Any combination of the items below can provide its own variant, e.g. "//../" is not listed (CVE-2004-0325).

+ Weakness Ordinalities
OrdinalityDescription
Primary
(where the weakness exists independent of other weaknesses)
Resultant
(where the weakness is typically related to the presence of some other weaknesses)
+ Relationships
NatureTypeIDNameView(s) this relationship pertains toView(s)
ChildOfCategoryCategory21Pathname Traversal and Equivalence Errors
Development Concepts (primary)699
ChildOfCategoryCategory632Weaknesses that Affect Files or Directories
Resource-specific Weaknesses (primary)631
ChildOfWeakness ClassWeakness Class668Exposure of Resource to Wrong Sphere
Research Concepts1000
ChildOfWeakness ClassWeakness Class706Use of Incorrectly-Resolved Name or Reference
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ChildOfCategoryCategory715OWASP Top Ten 2007 Category A4 - Insecure Direct Object Reference
Weaknesses in OWASP Top Ten (2007) (primary)629
ChildOfCategoryCategory723OWASP Top Ten 2004 Category A2 - Broken Access Control
Weaknesses in OWASP Top Ten (2004) (primary)711
ChildOfCategoryCategory743CERT C Secure Coding Section 09 - Input Output (FIO)
Weaknesses Addressed by the CERT C Secure Coding Standard (primary)734
ChildOfCategoryCategory8022010 Top 25 - Risky Resource Management
Weaknesses in the 2010 CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Programming Errors (primary)800
ChildOfCategoryCategory813OWASP Top Ten 2010 Category A4 - Insecure Direct Object References
Weaknesses in OWASP Top Ten (2010) (primary)809
ChildOfCategoryCategory8652011 Top 25 - Risky Resource Management
Weaknesses in the 2011 CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Software Errors (primary)900
ChildOfCategoryCategory877CERT C++ Secure Coding Section 09 - Input Output (FIO)
Weaknesses Addressed by the CERT C++ Secure Coding Standard (primary)868
ChildOfCategoryCategory893SFP Cluster: Path Resolution
Software Fault Pattern (SFP) Clusters (primary)888
ChildOfCategoryCategory932OWASP Top Ten 2013 Category A4 - Insecure Direct Object References
Weaknesses in OWASP Top Ten (2013) (primary)928
ParentOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base23Relative Path Traversal
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ParentOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base36Absolute Path Traversal
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
MemberOfViewView635Weaknesses Used by NVD
Weaknesses Used by NVD (primary)635
MemberOfViewView884CWE Cross-section
CWE Cross-section (primary)884
CanFollowWeakness ClassWeakness Class20Improper Input Validation
Research Concepts1000
CanFollowWeakness ClassWeakness Class73External Control of File Name or Path
Research Concepts1000
CanFollowWeakness ClassWeakness Class172Encoding Error
Research Concepts1000
+ Relationship Notes

Pathname equivalence can be regarded as a type of canonicalization error.

Some pathname equivalence issues are not directly related to directory traversal, rather are used to bypass security-relevant checks for whether a file/directory can be accessed by the attacker (e.g. a trailing "/" on a filename could bypass access rules that don't expect a trailing /, causing a server to provide the file when it normally would not).

+ Research Gaps

Many variants of path traversal attacks are probably under-studied with respect to root cause. CWE-790 and CWE-182 begin to cover part of this gap.

+ Affected Resources
  • File/Directory
+ Relevant Properties
  • Equivalence
+ Functional Areas
  • File processing
+ Causal Nature

Explicit

+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
PLOVERPath Traversal
OWASP Top Ten 2007A4CWE_More_SpecificInsecure Direct Object Reference
OWASP Top Ten 2004A2CWE_More_SpecificBroken Access Control
CERT C Secure CodingFIO02-CCanonicalize path names originating from untrusted sources
WASC33Path Traversal
CERT C++ Secure CodingFIO02-CPPCanonicalize path names originating from untrusted sources
+ References
[R.22.1] [REF-11] M. Howard and D. LeBlanc. "Writing Secure Code". Chapter 11, "Directory Traversal and Using Parent Paths (..)" Page 370. 2nd Edition. Microsoft. 2002.
[R.22.2] [REF-21] OWASP. "OWASP Enterprise Security API (ESAPI) Project". <http://www.owasp.org/index.php/ESAPI>.
[R.22.3] [REF-32] OWASP. "Testing for Path Traversal (OWASP-AZ-001)". <http://www.owasp.org/index.php/Testing_for_Path_Traversal_(OWASP-AZ-001)>.
[R.22.4] Johannes Ullrich. "Top 25 Series - Rank 7 - Path Traversal". SANS Software Security Institute. 2010-03-09. <http://blogs.sans.org/appsecstreetfighter/2010/03/09/top-25-series-rank-7-path-traversal/>.
[R.22.5] [REF-31] Sean Barnum and Michael Gegick. "Least Privilege". 2005-09-14. <https://buildsecurityin.us-cert.gov/daisy/bsi/articles/knowledge/principles/351.html>.
[R.22.6] [REF-7] Mark Dowd, John McDonald and Justin Schuh. "The Art of Software Security Assessment". Chapter 9, "Filenames and Paths", Page 503.. 1st Edition. Addison Wesley. 2006.
+ Content History
Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganizationSource
PLOVERExternally Mined
Modifications
Modification DateModifierOrganizationSource
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigitalExternal
updated Potential_Mitigations, Time_of_Introduction
2008-08-15VeracodeExternal
Suggested OWASP Top Ten 2004 mapping
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Alternate_Terms, Relationships, Other_Notes, Relationship_Notes, Relevant_Properties, Taxonomy_Mappings, Weakness_Ordinalities
2008-10-14CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Description
2008-11-24CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2009-07-27CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Potential_Mitigations
2010-02-16CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Alternate_Terms, Applicable_Platforms, Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Detection_Factors, Likelihood_of_Exploit, Name, Observed_Examples, Other_Notes, Potential_Mitigations, References, Related_Attack_Patterns, Relationship_Notes, Relationships, Research_Gaps, Taxonomy_Mappings, Terminology_Notes, Time_of_Introduction, Weakness_Ordinalities
2010-06-21CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Detection_Factors, Potential_Mitigations, References, Relationships
2010-09-27CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Potential_Mitigations
2010-12-13CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Potential_Mitigations
2011-03-29CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Potential_Mitigations
2011-06-27CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships
2011-09-13CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Potential_Mitigations, References, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Demonstrative_Examples, References, Relationships
2012-10-30CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Potential_Mitigations
2013-02-21CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Observed_Examples
2013-07-17CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Related_Attack_Patterns, Relationships
Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2010-02-16Path Traversal
Page Last Updated: February 18, 2014