Common Weakness Enumeration

A Community-Developed List of Software Weakness Types

CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Software Errors
Home > CWE List > CWE- Individual Dictionary Definition (2.11)  

CWE-454: External Initialization of Trusted Variables or Data Stores

Weakness ID: 454
Abstraction: Base
Status: Draft
Presentation Filter:
+ Description

Description Summary

The software initializes critical internal variables or data stores using inputs that can be modified by untrusted actors.

Extended Description

A software system should be reluctant to trust variables that have been initialized outside of its trust boundary, especially if they are initialized by users. They may have been initialized incorrectly. If an attacker can initialize the variable, then he/she can influence what the vulnerable system will do.

+ Time of Introduction
  • Architecture and Design
  • Implementation
+ Applicable Platforms


PHP: (Sometimes)


Platform Notes

This is often found in PHP due to register_globals and the common practice of storing library/include files under the web document root so that they are available using a direct request.

+ Common Consequences

Technical Impact: Modify application data

An attacker could gain access to and modify sensitive data or system information.

+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

In the Java example below, a system property controls the debug level of the application.

(Bad Code)
Example Language: Java 
int debugLevel = Integer.getInteger("com.domain.application.debugLevel").intValue();

If an attacker is able to modify the system property, then it may be possible to coax the application into divulging sensitive information by virtue of the fact that additional debug information is printed/exposed as the debug level increases.

Example 2

This code checks the HTTP POST request for a debug switch, and enables a debug mode if the switch is set.

(Bad Code)
Example Language: PHP 
$debugEnabled = false;
if ($_POST["debug"] == "true"){
$debugEnabled = true;
function login($username, $password){
echo 'Debug Activated';
$isAdmin = True;
return True;

Any user can activate the debug mode, gaining administrator privileges. An attacker may also use the information printed by the phpinfo() function to further exploit the system. .

This example also exhibits Information Exposure Through Debug Information (CWE-215)

+ Observed Examples
Does not clear dangerous environment variables, enabling symlink attack.
Specify alternate configuration directory in environment variable, enabling untrusted path.
Dangerous environment variable not cleansed.
Specify arbitrary modules using environment variable.
+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Implementation

Strategy: Input Validation

A software system should be reluctant to trust variables that have been initialized outside of its trust boundary. Ensure adequate checking (e.g. input validation) is performed when relying on input from outside a trust boundary.

Phase: Architecture and Design

Avoid any external control of variables. If necessary, restrict the variables that can be modified using a whitelist, and use a different namespace or naming convention if possible.

+ Relationships
NatureTypeIDNameView(s) this relationship pertains toView(s)
ChildOfCategoryCategory452Initialization and Cleanup Errors
Development Concepts (primary)699
ChildOfWeakness ClassWeakness Class665Improper Initialization
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ChildOfCategoryCategory8082010 Top 25 - Weaknesses On the Cusp
Weaknesses in the 2010 CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Programming Errors (primary)800
ChildOfCategoryCategory994SFP Secondary Cluster: Tainted Input to Variable
Software Fault Pattern (SFP) Clusters (primary)888
CanAlsoBeWeakness BaseWeakness Base456Missing Initialization of a Variable
Research Concepts1000
MemberOfViewView884CWE Cross-section
CWE Cross-section (primary)884
+ Relationship Notes

Overlaps Missing variable initialization, especially in PHP.

+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
PLOVERExternal initialization of trusted variables or values
Software Fault PatternsSFP25Tainted input to variable
+ Content History
Submission DateSubmitterOrganizationSource
PLOVERExternally Mined
Modification DateModifierOrganizationSource
2008-07-01Sean EidemillerCigitalExternal
added/updated demonstrative examples
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigitalExternal
updated Potential_Mitigations, Time_of_Introduction
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Applicable_Platforms, Description, Relationships, Other_Notes, Taxonomy_Mappings
2009-10-29CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Other_Notes, Relationship_Notes
2010-02-16CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Description, Name, Relationships
2010-04-05CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Applicable_Platforms, Demonstrative_Examples
2011-03-29CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Common_Consequences, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Common_Consequences, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2012-10-30CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Potential_Mitigations
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2008-04-11External Initialization of Trusted Variables or Values
2010-02-16External Initialization of Trusted Variables

More information is available — Please select a different filter.
Page Last Updated: May 05, 2017