Common Weakness Enumeration

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CWE-36: Absolute Path Traversal

Weakness ID: 36
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
Status: Draft
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The software uses external input to construct a pathname that should be within a restricted directory, but it does not properly neutralize absolute path sequences such as "/abs/path" that can resolve to a location that is outside of that directory.
+ Extended Description
This allows attackers to traverse the file system to access files or directories that are outside of the restricted directory.
+ Relationships

The table(s) below shows the weaknesses and high level categories that are related to this weakness. These relationships are defined as ChildOf, ParentOf, MemberOf and give insight to similar items that may exist at higher and lower levels of abstraction. In addition, relationships such as PeerOf and CanAlsoBe are defined to show similar weaknesses that the user may want to explore.

+ Modes Of Introduction

The different Modes of Introduction provide information about how and when this weakness may be introduced. The Phase identifies a point in the software life cycle at which introduction may occur, while the Note provides a typical scenario related to introduction during the given phase.

Architecture and Design
+ Applicable Platforms
The listings below show possible areas for which the given weakness could appear. These may be for specific named Languages, Operating Systems, Architectures, Paradigms, Technologies, or a class of such platforms. The platform is listed along with how frequently the given weakness appears for that instance.


Class: Language-Independent (Undetermined Prevalence)

+ Common Consequences

The table below specifies different individual consequences associated with the weakness. The Scope identifies the application security area that is violated, while the Impact describes the negative technical impact that arises if an adversary succeeds in exploiting this weakness. The Likelihood provides information about how likely the specific consequence is expected to be seen relative to the other consequences in the list. For example, there may be high likelihood that a weakness will be exploited to achieve a certain impact, but a low likelihood that it will be exploited to achieve a different impact.


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.

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.

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.

Technical Impact: DoS: Crash, Exit, or 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.
+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

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 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 2

The following code demonstrates the unrestricted upload of a file with a Java servlet and a path traversal vulnerability. The action attribute of an HTML form is sending the upload file request to the Java servlet.

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

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


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 {
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) {


} //end of for loop

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

// output unsuccessful upload response HTML page



As with the previous example 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.

Additionally, the creation of the BufferedWriter object is subject to relative path traversal (CWE-22, CWE-23). 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.

+ Observed Examples
Multiple FTP clients write arbitrary files via absolute paths in server responses
ZIP file extractor allows full path
Path traversal using absolute pathname
Path traversal using absolute pathname
Path traversal using absolute pathname
Arbitrary files may be overwritten via compressed attachments that specify absolute path names for the decompressed output.
Mail client allows remote attackers to overwrite arbitrary files via an e-mail message containing a uuencoded attachment that specifies the full pathname for the file to be modified.
Remote attackers can read arbitrary files via a full pathname to the target file in config parameter.
Remote attackers can read arbitrary files via an absolute pathname.
Remote attackers can read arbitrary files by specifying the drive letter in the requested URL.
FTP server allows remote attackers to list arbitrary directories by using the "ls" command and including the drive letter name (e.g. C:) in the requested pathname.
FTP server allows remote attackers to list the contents of arbitrary drives via a ls command that includes the drive letter as an argument.
Server allows remote attackers to browse arbitrary directories via a full pathname in the arguments to certain dynamic pages.
Remote attackers can read arbitrary files via an HTTP request whose argument is a filename of the form "C:" (Drive letter), "//absolute/path", or ".." .
FTP server read/access arbitrary files using "C:\" filenames
FTP server allows a remote attacker to retrieve privileged web server system information by specifying arbitrary paths in the UNC format (\\computername\sharename).
+ Memberships
This MemberOf Relationships table shows additional CWE Categories and Views that reference this weakness as a member. This information is often useful in understanding where a weakness fits within the context of external information sources.
MemberOfViewView884CWE Cross-section
MemberOfCategoryCategory981SFP Secondary Cluster: Path Traversal
+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
PLOVERAbsolute Path Traversal
Software Fault PatternsSFP16Path Traversal
+ References
[REF-62] 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
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
Modification DateModifierOrganization
2008-07-01Sean EidemillerCigital
added/updated demonstrative examples
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigital
updated Time_of_Introduction
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2008-10-14CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Description
2010-02-16CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2010-06-21CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples, Description
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2011-09-13CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Observed_Examples, References, Relationships
2012-10-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Potential_Mitigations
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2017-01-19CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Related_Attack_Patterns
2017-11-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms

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Page Last Updated: January 18, 2018