Incorrect Authorization

The software performs an authorization check when an actor attempts to access a resource or perform an action, but it does not correctly perform the check. This allows attackers to bypass intended access restrictions.


Assuming a user with a given identity, authorization is the process of determining whether that user can access a given resource, based on the user's privileges and any permissions or other access-control specifications that apply to the resource.

When access control checks are incorrectly applied, users are able to access data or perform actions that they should not be allowed to perform. This can lead to a wide range of problems, including information exposures, denial of service, and arbitrary code execution.


An access control list (ACL) represents who/what has permissions to a given object. Different operating systems implement (ACLs) in different ways. In UNIX, there are three types of permissions: read, write, and execute. Users are divided into three classes for file access: owner, group owner, and all other users where each class has a separate set of rights. In Windows NT, there are four basic types of permissions for files: "No access", "Read access", "Change access", and "Full control". Windows NT extends the concept of three types of users in UNIX to include a list of users and groups along with their associated permissions. A user can create an object (file) and assign specified permissions to that object.


The following examples help to illustrate the nature of this weakness and describe methods or techniques which can be used to mitigate the risk.

Note that the examples here are by no means exhaustive and any given weakness may have many subtle varieties, each of which may require different detection methods or runtime controls.

Example One

The following code could be for a medical records application. It displays a record to already authenticated users, confirming the user's authorization using a value stored in a cookie.

$role = $_COOKIES['role'];
if (!$role) {
  $role = getRole('user');
  if ($role) {
    // save the cookie to send out in future responses
    setcookie("role", $role, time()+60*60*2);
if ($role == 'Reader') {
  die("You are not Authorized to view this record\n");

The programmer expects that the cookie will only be set when getRole() succeeds. The programmer even diligently specifies a 2-hour expiration for the cookie. However, the attacker can easily set the "role" cookie to the value "Reader". As a result, the $role variable is "Reader", and getRole() is never invoked. The attacker has bypassed the authorization system.

See Also

Authorize Actors

Weaknesses in this category are related to the design and architecture of a system's authorization components. Frequently these deal with enforcing that agents have th...

Comprehensive CWE Dictionary

This view (slice) covers all the elements in CWE.

Weaknesses for Simplified Mapping of Published Vulnerabilities

CWE entries in this view (graph) may be used to categorize potential weaknesses within sources that handle public, third-party vulnerability information, such as the N...

Weaknesses without Software Fault Patterns

CWE identifiers in this view are weaknesses that do not have associated Software Fault Patterns (SFPs), as covered by the CWE-888 view. As such, they represent gaps in...

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