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Home > CWE List > CWE- Individual Dictionary Definition (4.14)  

CWE-526: Cleartext Storage of Sensitive Information in an Environment Variable

Weakness ID: 526
Vulnerability Mapping: ALLOWEDThis CWE ID may be used to map to real-world vulnerabilities
Abstraction: VariantVariant - a weakness that is linked to a certain type of product, typically involving a specific language or technology. More specific than a Base weakness. Variant level weaknesses typically describe issues in terms of 3 to 5 of the following dimensions: behavior, property, technology, language, and resource.
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+ Description
The product uses an environment variable to store unencrypted sensitive information.
+ Extended Description
Information stored in an environment variable can be accessible by other processes with the execution context, including child processes that dependencies are executed in, or serverless functions in cloud environments. An environment variable's contents can also be inserted into messages, headers, log files, or other outputs. Often these other dependencies have no need to use the environment variable in question. A weakness that discloses environment variables could expose this information.
+ Relationships
Section HelpThis table 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)
ChildOfBaseBase - a weakness that is still mostly independent of a resource or technology, but with sufficient details to provide specific methods for detection and prevention. Base level weaknesses typically describe issues in terms of 2 or 3 of the following dimensions: behavior, property, technology, language, and resource.312Cleartext Storage of Sensitive Information
PeerOfBaseBase - a weakness that is still mostly independent of a resource or technology, but with sufficient details to provide specific methods for detection and prevention. Base level weaknesses typically describe issues in terms of 2 or 3 of the following dimensions: behavior, property, technology, language, and resource.214Invocation of Process Using Visible Sensitive Information
+ Modes Of Introduction
Section HelpThe 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 Design
+ Common Consequences
Section HelpThis table 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

+ Observed Examples
CMS shows sensitive server-side information from environment variables when run in Debug mode.
Plugin for an automation server inserts environment variable contents into build XML files.
CI/CD tool logs environment variables related to passwords add Contribution to content history.
+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Architecture and Design

Encrypt information stored in the environment variable to protect it from being exposed to an unauthorized user. If encryption is not feasible or is considered too expensive for the business use of the application, then consider using a properly protected configuration file instead of an environment variable. It should be understood that unencrypted information in a config file is also not guaranteed to be protected, but it is still a better choice, because it reduces attack surface related to weaknesses such as CWE-214. In some settings, vaults might be a feasible option for safer data transfer. Users should be notified of the business choice made to not protect the sensitive information through encryption.

Phase: Implementation

If the environment variable is not necessary for the desired behavior, then remove it entirely, or clear it to an empty value.
+ Detection Methods

Automated Static Analysis

Automated static analysis, commonly referred to as Static Application Security Testing (SAST), can find some instances of this weakness by analyzing source code (or binary/compiled code) without having to execute it. Typically, this is done by building a model of data flow and control flow, then searching for potentially-vulnerable patterns that connect "sources" (origins of input) with "sinks" (destinations where the data interacts with external components, a lower layer such as the OS, etc.)

Effectiveness: High

+ Memberships
Section HelpThis 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.731OWASP Top Ten 2004 Category A10 - Insecure Configuration Management
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.963SFP Secondary Cluster: Exposed Data
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1349OWASP Top Ten 2021 Category A05:2021 - Security Misconfiguration
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1417Comprehensive Categorization: Sensitive Information Exposure
+ Vulnerability Mapping Notes


(this CWE ID could be used to map to real-world vulnerabilities)

Reason: Acceptable-Use


This CWE entry is at the Variant level of abstraction, which is a preferred level of abstraction for mapping to the root causes of vulnerabilities.


Carefully read both the name and description to ensure that this mapping is an appropriate fit. Do not try to 'force' a mapping to a lower-level Base/Variant simply to comply with this preferred level of abstraction.
+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
Software Fault PatternsSFP23Exposed Data
+ References
[REF-1318] David Fiser, Alfredo Oliveira. "Analyzing the Hidden Danger of Environment Variables for Keeping Secrets". 2022-08-17. <>. URL validated: 2023-01-26.
[REF-1319] Nicolas Harraudeau. "Using environment variables is security-sensitive". 2021-04-28. <>. URL validated: 2023-01-26.
+ Content History
+ Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
(CWE Draft 3, 2006-07-19)
CWE Community
Submitted by members of the CWE community to extend early CWE versions
+ Contributions
Contribution DateContributorOrganization
2023-01-11Drew ButtnerMITRE
Suggested improvements to name, description, relationships, and mitigations
+ Modifications
Modification DateModifierOrganization
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigital
updated Potential_Mitigations, Time_of_Introduction
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2009-03-10CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2011-03-29CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Name
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2012-10-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Potential_Mitigations
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2020-02-24CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Name, Relationships
2021-10-28CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2023-01-31CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Description, Name, Observed_Examples, Potential_Mitigations, References, Relationships
2023-04-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Detection_Factors, Relationships
2023-06-29CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Mapping_Notes
+ Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2011-03-29Information Leak Through Environmental Variables
2020-02-24Information Exposure Through Environmental Variables
2023-01-31Exposure of Sensitive Information Through Environmental Variables
Page Last Updated: February 29, 2024