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CWE-653: Insufficient Compartmentalization

Weakness ID: 653
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
Status: Draft
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The product does not sufficiently compartmentalize functionality or processes that require different privilege levels, rights, or permissions.
+ Extended Description
When a weakness occurs in functionality that is accessible by lower-privileged users, then without strong boundaries, an attack might extend the scope of the damage to higher-privileged users.
+ Alternate Terms
Separation of Privilege:
Some people and publications use the term "Separation of Privilege" to describe this weakness, but this term has dual meanings in current usage. This node conflicts with the original definition of "Separation of Privilege" by Saltzer and Schroeder; that original definition is more closely associated with CWE-654. Because there are multiple interpretations, use of the "Separation of Privilege" term is discouraged.
+ 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)
ChildOfClassClass693Protection Mechanism Failure
ChildOfClassClass657Violation of Secure Design Principles
+ Relevant to the view "Architectural Concepts" (CWE-1008)
MemberOfCategoryCategory1011Authorize Actors
+ Relevant to the view "Development Concepts" (CWE-699)
MemberOfCategoryCategory2547PK - Security Features
ChildOfClassClass657Violation of Secure Design Principles
+ 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 DesignCOMMISSION: This weakness refers to an incorrect design related to an architectural security tactic.
+ 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; Bypass Protection Mechanism

The exploitation of a weakness in low-privileged areas of the software can be leveraged to reach higher-privileged areas without having to overcome any additional obstacles.
+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

Single sign-on technology is intended to make it easier for users to access multiple resources or domains without having to authenticate each time. While this is highly convenient for the user and attempts to address problems with psychological acceptability, it also means that a compromise of a user's credentials can provide immediate access to all other resources or domains.

Example 2

The traditional UNIX privilege model provides root with arbitrary access to all resources, but root is frequently the only user that has privileges. As a result, administrative tasks require root privileges, even if those tasks are limited to a small area, such as updating user man pages. Some UNIX flavors have a "bin" user that is the owner of system executables, but since root relies on executables owned by bin, a compromise of the bin account can be leveraged for root privileges by modifying a bin-owned executable, such as CVE-2007-4238.

+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Architecture and Design

Break up privileges between different modules, objects or entities. Minimize the interfaces between modules and require strong access control between them.
+ Weakness Ordinalities
(where the weakness exists independent of other weaknesses)
+ Detection Methods

Automated Static Analysis - Binary or Bytecode

According to SOAR, the following detection techniques may be useful:

Cost effective for partial coverage:
  • Compare binary / bytecode to application permission manifest

Effectiveness: SOAR Partial

Manual Static Analysis - Source Code

According to SOAR, the following detection techniques may be useful:

Highly cost effective:
  • Manual Source Code Review (not inspections)
Cost effective for partial coverage:
  • Focused Manual Spotcheck - Focused manual analysis of source

Effectiveness: High

Architecture or Design Review

According to SOAR, the following detection techniques may be useful:

Highly cost effective:
  • Inspection (IEEE 1028 standard) (can apply to requirements, design, source code, etc.)
  • Formal Methods / Correct-By-Construction
Cost effective for partial coverage:
  • Attack Modeling

Effectiveness: High

+ 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.
MemberOfCategoryCategory901SFP Primary Cluster: Privilege
+ Notes


There is a close association with CWE-250 (Execution with Unnecessary Privileges). CWE-653 is about providing separate components for each privilege; CWE-250 is about ensuring that each component has the least amount of privileges possible. In this fashion, compartmentalization becomes one mechanism for reducing privileges.


The term "Separation of Privilege" is used in several different ways in the industry, but they generally combine two closely related principles: compartmentalization (this node) and using only one factor in a security decision (CWE-654). Proper compartmentalization implicitly introduces multiple factors into a security decision, but there can be cases in which multiple factors are required for authentication or other mechanisms that do not involve compartmentalization, such as performing all required checks on a submitted certificate. It is likely that CWE-653 and CWE-654 will provoke further discussion.
+ References
[REF-196] Jerome H. Saltzer and Michael D. Schroeder. "The Protection of Information in Computer Systems". Proceedings of the IEEE 63. 1975-09. <>.
[REF-535] Sean Barnum and Michael Gegick. "Separation of Privilege". 2005-12-06. <>.
+ Content History
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
2008-01-18Pascal MeunierPurdue University
Modification DateModifierOrganization
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigital
updated Time_of_Introduction
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Alternate_Terms, Common_Consequences, Description, Relationships, Other_Notes, Weakness_Ordinalities
2009-01-12CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Name
2010-12-13CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Other_Notes, Relationship_Notes, Terminology_Notes
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 Detection_Factors
2017-11-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, Causal_Nature, Modes_of_Introduction, Relationships
Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2009-01-12Design Principle Violation: Insufficient Compartmentalization

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Page Last Updated: January 18, 2018