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CWE-648: Incorrect Use of Privileged APIs

Weakness ID: 648
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
Status: Incomplete
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The application does not conform to the API requirements for a function call that requires extra privileges. This could allow attackers to gain privileges by causing the function to be called incorrectly.
+ Extended Description

When an application contains certain functions that perform operations requiring an elevated level of privilege, the caller of a privileged API must be careful to:

  • ensure that assumptions made by the APIs are valid, such as validity of arguments
  • account for known weaknesses in the design/implementation of the API
  • call the API from a safe context

If the caller of the API does not follow these requirements, then it may allow a malicious user or process to elevate their privilege, hijack the process, or steal sensitive data.

For instance, it is important to know if privileged APIs do not shed their privileges before returning to the caller or if the privileged function might make certain assumptions about the data, context or state information passed to it by the caller. It is important to always know when and how privileged APIs can be called in order to ensure that their elevated level of privilege cannot be exploited.

+ 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.

+ Relevant to the view "Research Concepts" (CWE-1000)
ChildOfClassClass269Improper Privilege Management
+ Relevant to the view "Development Concepts" (CWE-699)
MemberOfCategoryCategory265Privilege / Sandbox Issues
+ 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.

Access Control

Technical Impact: Gain Privileges or Assume Identity

An attacker may be able to elevate privileges.

Technical Impact: Read Application Data

An attacker may be able to obtain sensitive information.

Technical Impact: Execute Unauthorized Code or Commands

An attacker may be able to execute code.
+ Likelihood Of Exploit
+ Observed Examples
A Unix utility that displays online help files, if installed seruid, could allow a local attacker to gain privileges when a particular file-opening function is called.
+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Implementation

Before calling privileged APIs, always ensure that the assumptions made by the privileged code hold true prior to making the call.

Phase: Architecture and Design

Know architecture and implementation weaknesses of the privileged APIs and make sure to account for these weaknesses before calling the privileged APIs to ensure that they can be called safely.

Phase: Implementation

If privileged APIs make certain assumptions about data, context or state validity that are passed by the caller, the calling code must ensure that these assumptions have been validated prior to making the call.

Phase: Implementation

If privileged APIs do not shed their privilege prior to returning to the calling code, then calling code needs to shed these privileges immediately and safely right after the call to the privileged APIs. In particular, the calling code needs to ensure that a privileged thread of execution will never be returned to the user or made available to user-controlled processes.

Phase: Implementation

Only call privileged APIs from safe, consistent and expected state.

Phase: Implementation

Ensure that a failure or an error will not leave a system in a state where privileges are not properly shed and privilege escalation is possible (i.e. fail securely with regards to handling of privileges).
+ 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
MemberOfCategoryCategory977SFP Secondary Cluster: Design
+ Content History
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
2008-01-30Evgeny LebanidzeCigital
Modification DateModifierOrganization
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Relationships
2008-10-14CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Description, Potential_Mitigations
2009-05-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Name, Related_Attack_Patterns
2009-10-29CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences
2010-04-05CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Related_Attack_Patterns
2010-12-13CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Description
2011-03-29CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Description, Potential_Mitigations
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2012-10-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Potential_Mitigations
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2017-11-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, Enabling_Factors_for_Exploitation, Observed_Examples, Relationships
Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2009-05-27Improper Use of Privileged APIs

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Page Last Updated: January 18, 2018