The application can operate on unexpected files. Availability can be
violated if the attacker specifies an unexpected file that the
application modifies. Availability can also be affected if the attacker
specifies a filename for a large file, or points to a special device or
a file that does not have the format that the application
Likelihood of Exploit
High to Very High
Automated Static Analysis
The external control or influence of filenames can often be detected
using automated static analysis that models data flow within the
Automated static analysis might not be able to recognize when proper
input validation is being performed, leading to false positives - i.e.,
warnings that do not have any security consequences or require any code
The following code uses input from an HTTP request to create a file name. The programmer has not considered the possibility that an attacker could provide a file name such as "../../tomcat/conf/server.xml", which causes the application to delete one of its own configuration files (CWE-22).
File rFile = new File("/usr/local/apfr/reports/" + rName);
The following code uses input from a configuration file to determine
which file to open and echo back to the user. If the program runs with
privileges and malicious users can change the configuration file, they can
use the program to read any file on the system that ends with the extension
fis = new FileInputStream(cfg.getProperty("sub")+".txt");
Chain: external control of user's target language
enables remote file inclusion.
Phase: Architecture and Design
When the set of filenames is limited or known, create a mapping from a
set of fixed input values (such as numeric IDs) to the actual filenames,
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 provide this capability.
Phases: Architecture and Design; Operation
Run your code in a "jail" or similar sandbox environment that enforces
strict boundaries between the process and the operating system. This may
effectively restrict all access to files within a particular
Examples include the Unix chroot jail and AppArmor. In general,
managed code may provide some protection.
This may not be a feasible solution, and it only limits the impact to
the operating system; the rest of your application may still be subject
Be careful to avoid CWE-243 and other weaknesses related to jails.
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.
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
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
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.
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).
Phases: Installation; Operation
Use OS-level permissions and run as a low-privileged user to limit the
scope of any successful attack.
Phases: Operation; Implementation
If you are using PHP, configure your application so that it does not use register_globals. During implementation, develop your 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.
Use automated static analysis tools that target this type of weakness.
Many modern techniques use data flow analysis to minimize the number of
false positives. This is not a perfect solution, since 100% accuracy and
coverage are not feasible.
Use dynamic tools and techniques that interact with the software using
large test suites with many diverse inputs, such as fuzz testing
(fuzzing), robustness testing, and fault injection. The software's
operation may slow down, but it should not become unstable, crash, or
generate incorrect results.
Use tools and techniques that require manual (human) analysis, such as
penetration testing, threat modeling, and interactive tools that allow
the tester to record and modify an active session. These may be more
effective than strictly automated techniques. This is especially the
case with weaknesses that are related to design and business
the weakness exists independent of other weaknesses)
The external control of filenames can be the primary link in chains with
other file-related weaknesses, as seen in the CanPrecede relationships. This
is because software systems use files for many different purposes: to
execute programs, load code libraries, to store application data, to store
configuration settings, record temporary data, act as signals or semaphores
to other processes, etc.
However, those weaknesses do not always require external control. For example, link-following weaknesses (CWE-59) often involve pathnames that are not controllable by the attacker at all.
The external control can be resultant from other issues. For example, in PHP applications, the register_globals setting can allow an attacker to modify variables that the programmer thought were immutable, enabling file inclusion (CWE-98) and path traversal (CWE-22). Operating with excessive privileges (CWE-250) might allow an attacker to specify an input filename that is not directly readable by the attacker, but is accessible to the privileged program. A buffer overflow (CWE-119) might give an attacker control over nearby memory locations that are related to pathnames, but were not directly modifiable by the attacker.
Mapped Taxonomy Name
Mapped Node Name
7 Pernicious Kingdoms
CERT C++ Secure Coding
Be careful using functions that use file names for
CERT C++ Secure Coding
Canonicalize path names originating from untrusted