Common Weakness Enumeration

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CWE-766: Critical Data Element Declared Public

Weakness ID: 766
Abstraction: Variant
Structure: Simple
Status: Incomplete
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The software declares a critical variable, field, or member to be public when intended security policy requires it to be private.
+ Extended Description

This issue makes it more difficult to maintain the software, which indirectly affects security by making it more difficult or time-consuming to find and/or fix vulnerabilities. It also might make it easier to introduce vulnerabilities.

+ 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.1061Insufficient Encapsulation
+ Relevant to the view "Software Development" (CWE-699)
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.275Permission Issues
+ 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 Design
+ 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.


C++ (Undetermined Prevalence)

C# (Undetermined Prevalence)

Java (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; Modify Application Data

Making a critical variable public allows anyone with access to the object in which the variable is contained to alter or read the value.

Technical Impact: Reduce Maintainability

+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

The following example declares a critical variable public, making it accessible to anyone with access to the object in which it is contained.

(bad code)
Example Language: C++ 
public: char* password;

Instead, the critical data should be declared private.

(good code)
Example Language: C++ 
private: char* password;

Even though this example declares the password to be private, there are other possible issues with this implementation, such as the possibility of recovering the password from process memory (CWE-257).

Example 2

The following example shows a basic user account class that includes member variables for the username and password as well as a public constructor for the class and a public method to authorize access to the user account.

(bad code)
Example Language: C++ 

class UserAccount
UserAccount(char *username, char *password)
if ((strlen(username) > MAX_USERNAME_LENGTH) ||
(strlen(password) > MAX_PASSWORD_LENGTH)) {
ExitError("Invalid username or password");
strcpy(this->username, username);
strcpy(this->password, password);

int authorizeAccess(char *username, char *password)
if ((strlen(username) > MAX_USERNAME_LENGTH) ||
(strlen(password) > MAX_PASSWORD_LENGTH)) {
ExitError("Invalid username or password");
// if the username and password in the input parameters are equal to

// the username and password of this account class then authorize access
if (strcmp(this->username, username) ||
strcmp(this->password, password))
return 0;

// otherwise do not authorize access
return 1;

char username[MAX_USERNAME_LENGTH+1];
char password[MAX_PASSWORD_LENGTH+1];

However, the member variables username and password are declared public and therefore will allow access and changes to the member variables to anyone with access to the object. These member variables should be declared private as shown below to prevent unauthorized access and changes.

(good code)
Example Language: C++ 
class UserAccount

char username[MAX_USERNAME_LENGTH+1];
char password[MAX_PASSWORD_LENGTH+1];
+ Observed Examples
variables declared public allows remote read of system properties such as user name and home directory.
+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Implementation

Data should be private, static, and final whenever possible. This will assure that your code is protected by instantiating early, preventing access, and preventing tampering.
+ Weakness Ordinalities
(where the weakness exists independent of other weaknesses)
(where the weakness is a quality issue that might indirectly make it easier to introduce security-relevant weaknesses or make them more difficult to detect)
+ 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.849The CERT Oracle Secure Coding Standard for Java (2011) Chapter 6 - Object Orientation (OBJ)
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1002SFP Secondary Cluster: Unexpected Entry Points
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1130CISQ Quality Measures (2016) - Maintainability
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1139SEI CERT Oracle Secure Coding Standard for Java - Guidelines 05. Object Orientation (OBJ)
+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
CLASPFailure to protect stored data from modification
The CERT Oracle Secure Coding Standard for Java (2011)OBJ01-JDeclare data members as private and provide accessible wrapper methods
Software Fault PatternsSFP28Unexpected access points
+ References
[REF-960] Object Management Group (OMG). "Automated Source Code Maintainability Measure (ASCMM)". ASCMM-MNT-15. 2016-01. <>.
+ Content History
+ Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
2009-03-03CWE Content TeamMITRE
+ Modifications
Modification DateModifierOrganization
2009-12-28CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2010-12-13CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Observed_Examples
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2017-11-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Likelihood_of_Exploit, Relationships
2019-01-03CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Description, Name, References, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings, Weakness_Ordinalities
2020-02-24CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
+ Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2019-01-03Critical Variable Declared Public
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Page Last Updated: March 15, 2021