Common Weakness Enumeration

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CWE-359: Exposure of Private Personal Information to an Unauthorized Actor

Weakness ID: 359
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
Status: Incomplete
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The product does not properly prevent a person's private, personal information from being accessed by actors who either (1) are not explicitly authorized to access the information or (2) do not have the implicit consent of the person about whom the information is collected.
+ Extended Description

There are many types of sensitive information that products must protect from attackers, including system data, communications, configuration, business secrets, intellectual property, and an individual's personal (private) information. Private personal information may include a password, phone number, geographic location, personal messages, credit card number, etc. Private information is important to consider whether the person is a user of the product, or part of a data set that is processed by the product. An exposure of private information does not necessarily prevent the product from working properly, and in fact the exposure might be intended by the developer, e.g. as part of data sharing with other organizations. However, the exposure of personal private information can still be undesirable or explicitly prohibited by law or regulation.

Some types of private information include:

  • Government identifiers, such as Social Security Numbers
  • Contact information, such as home addresses and telephone numbers
  • Geographic location - where the user is (or was)
  • Employment history
  • Financial data - such as credit card numbers, salary, bank accounts, and debts
  • Pictures, video, or audio
  • Behavioral patterns - such as web surfing history, when certain activities are performed, etc.
  • Relationships (and types of relationships) with others - family, friends, contacts, etc.
  • Communications - e-mail addresses, private messages, text messages, chat logs, etc.
  • Health - medical conditions, insurance status, prescription records
  • Account passwords and other credentials

Some of this information may be characterized as PII (Personally Identifiable Information), Protected Health Information (PHI), etc. Categories of private information may overlap or vary based on the intended usage or the policies and practices of a particular industry.

Sometimes data that is not labeled as private can have a privacy implication in a different context. For example, student identification numbers are usually not considered private because there is no explicit and publicly-available mapping to an individual student's personal information. However, if a school generates identification numbers based on student social security numbers, then the identification numbers should be considered private.

+ Alternate Terms
Privacy violation
Privacy leak
Privacy leakage
+ 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)
ChildOfClassClass - a weakness that is described in a very abstract fashion, typically independent of any specific language or technology. More specific than a Pillar Weakness, but more general than a Base Weakness. Class level weaknesses typically describe issues in terms of 1 or 2 of the following dimensions: behavior, property, and resource.200Exposure of Sensitive Information to an Unauthorized Actor
+ Relevant to the view "Software Development" (CWE-699)
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.199Information Management Errors
+ Relevant to the view "Architectural Concepts" (CWE-1008)
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1011Authorize Actors
+ 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 life cycle at which introduction may occur, while the Note provides a typical scenario related to introduction during the given phase.

Architecture and DesignOMISSION: This weakness is caused by missing a security tactic during the architecture and design phase.
+ 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)


Class: Mobile (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: Read Application Data

+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

The following code contains a logging statement that tracks the contents of records added to a database by storing them in a log file. Among other values that are stored, the getPassword() function returns the user-supplied plaintext password associated with the account.

(bad code)
Example Language: C# 
pass = GetPassword();
dbmsLog.WriteLine(id + ":" + pass + ":" + type + ":" + tstamp);

The code in the example above logs a plaintext password to the filesystem. Although many developers trust the filesystem as a safe storage location for data, it should not be trusted implicitly, particularly when privacy is a concern.

Example 2

This code uses location to determine the user's current US State location.

First the application must declare that it requires the ACCESS_FINE_LOCATION permission in the application's manifest.xml:

(bad code)
Example Language: XML 
<uses-permission android:name="android.permission.ACCESS_FINE_LOCATION"/>

During execution, a call to getLastLocation() will return a location based on the application's location permissions. In this case the application has permission for the most accurate location possible:

(bad code)
Example Language: Java 
locationClient = new LocationClient(this, this, this);
Location userCurrLocation;
userCurrLocation = locationClient.getLastLocation();

While the application needs this information, it does not need to use the ACCESS_FINE_LOCATION permission, as the ACCESS_COARSE_LOCATION permission will be sufficient to identify which US state the user is in.

Example 3

In 2004, an employee at AOL sold approximately 92 million private customer e-mail addresses to a spammer marketing an offshore gambling web site [REF-338]. In response to such high-profile exploits, the collection and management of private data is becoming increasingly regulated.

+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Requirements

Identify and consult all relevant regulations for personal privacy. An organization may be required to comply with certain federal and state regulations, depending on its location, the type of business it conducts, and the nature of any private data it handles. Regulations may include Safe Harbor Privacy Framework [REF-340], Gramm-Leach Bliley Act (GLBA) [REF-341], Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) [REF-342], General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) [REF-1047], California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) [REF-1048], and others.

Phase: Architecture and Design

Carefully evaluate how secure design may interfere with privacy, and vice versa. Security and privacy concerns often seem to compete with each other. From a security perspective, all important operations should be recorded so that any anomalous activity can later be identified. However, when private data is involved, this practice can in fact create risk. Although there are many ways in which private data can be handled unsafely, a common risk stems from misplaced trust. Programmers often trust the operating environment in which a program runs, and therefore believe that it is acceptable store private information on the file system, in the registry, or in other locally-controlled resources. However, even if access to certain resources is restricted, this does not guarantee that the individuals who do have access can be trusted.

+ Detection Methods

Architecture or Design Review

Private personal data can enter a program in a variety of ways:

  1. Directly from the user in the form of a password or personal information
  2. Accessed from a database or other data store by the application
  3. Indirectly from a partner or other third party

If the data is written to an external location - such as the console, file system, or network - a privacy violation may occur.

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.
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.2547PK - Security Features
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.857The CERT Oracle Secure Coding Standard for Java (2011) Chapter 14 - Input Output (FIO)
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.975SFP Secondary Cluster: Architecture
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1029OWASP Top Ten 2017 Category A3 - Sensitive Data Exposure
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1147SEI CERT Oracle Secure Coding Standard for Java - Guidelines 13. Input Output (FIO)
MemberOfViewView - a subset of CWE entries that provides a way of examining CWE content. The two main view structures are Slices (flat lists) and Graphs (containing relationships between entries).1340CISQ Data Protection Measures
+ Notes


This entry overlaps many other entries that are not organized around the kind of sensitive information that is exposed. However, because privacy is treated with such importance due to regulations and other factors, and it may be useful for weakness-finding tools to highlight capabilities that detect personal private information instead of system information, it is not clear whether - and how - this entry should be deprecated.
+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
7 Pernicious KingdomsPrivacy Violation
The CERT Oracle Secure Coding Standard for Java (2011)FIO13-JDo not log sensitive information outside a trust boundary
+ References
[REF-6] Katrina Tsipenyuk, Brian Chess and Gary McGraw. "Seven Pernicious Kingdoms: A Taxonomy of Software Security Errors". NIST Workshop on Software Security Assurance Tools Techniques and Metrics. NIST. 2005-11-07. <>.
[REF-338] J. Oates. "AOL man pleads guilty to selling 92m email addies". The Register. 2005. <>.
[REF-339] NIST. "Guide to Protecting the Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information (SP 800-122)". 2010-04. <>.
[REF-340] U.S. Department of Commerce. "Safe Harbor Privacy Framework". <>.
[REF-341] Federal Trade Commission. "Financial Privacy: The Gramm-Leach Bliley Act (GLBA)". <>.
[REF-342] U.S. Department of Human Services. "Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)". <>.
[REF-343] Government of the State of California. "California SB-1386". 2002. <>.
[REF-267] Information Technology Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology. "SECURITY REQUIREMENTS FOR CRYPTOGRAPHIC MODULES". 2001-05-25. <>.
[REF-172] Chris Wysopal. "Mobile App Top 10 List". 2010-12-13. <>.
[REF-1047] Wikipedia. "General Data Protection Regulation". <>.
[REF-1048] State of California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General. "California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)". <>.
+ Content History
+ Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
2006-07-197 Pernicious Kingdoms
+ Modifications
Modification DateModifierOrganization
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigital
updated Time_of_Introduction
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Other_Notes, Taxonomy_Mappings
2009-03-10CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Other_Notes
2009-07-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2009-12-28CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Other_Notes, References
2010-02-16CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Other_Notes, References
2011-03-29CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Other_Notes
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2011-09-13CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Other_Notes, References
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Related_Attack_Patterns, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2013-02-21CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, References
2014-02-18CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Alternate_Terms, Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Name, Other_Notes, References
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2017-11-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Modes_of_Introduction, References, Relationships
2018-03-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2019-01-03CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2020-02-24CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Alternate_Terms, Applicable_Platforms, Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Detection_Factors, Maintenance_Notes, Name, Potential_Mitigations, References, Relationships, Type
2020-08-20CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Related_Attack_Patterns
2020-12-10CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2021-03-15CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated References
+ Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2014-02-18Privacy Violation
2020-02-24Exposure of Private Information ('Privacy Violation')
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Page Last Updated: March 15, 2021