Authorization Bypass Through User-Controlled Key

The system's authorization functionality does not prevent one user from gaining access to another user's data or record by modifying the key value identifying the data.


Retrieval of a user record occurs in the system based on some key value that is under user control. The key would typically identify a user-related record stored in the system and would be used to lookup that record for presentation to the user. It is likely that an attacker would have to be an authenticated user in the system. However, the authorization process would not properly check the data access operation to ensure that the authenticated user performing the operation has sufficient entitlements to perform the requested data access, hence bypassing any other authorization checks present in the system.

For example, attackers can look at places where user specific data is retrieved (e.g. search screens) and determine whether the key for the item being looked up is controllable externally. The key may be a hidden field in the HTML form field, might be passed as a URL parameter or as an unencrypted cookie variable, then in each of these cases it will be possible to tamper with the key value.

One manifestation of this weakness is when a system uses sequential or otherwise easily-guessable session IDs that would allow one user to easily switch to another user's session and read/modify their data.


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 uses a parameterized statement, which escapes metacharacters and prevents SQL injection vulnerabilities, to construct and execute a SQL query that searches for an invoice matching the specified identifier [1]. The identifier is selected from a list of all invoices associated with the current authenticated user.

conn = new SqlConnection(_ConnectionString);
int16 id = System.Convert.ToInt16(invoiceID.Text);
SqlCommand query = new SqlCommand( "SELECT * FROM invoices WHERE id = @id", conn);
query.Parameters.AddWithValue("@id", id);
SqlDataReader objReader = objCommand.ExecuteReader();

The problem is that the developer has not considered all of the possible values of id. Although the interface generates a list of invoice identifiers that belong to the current user, an attacker can bypass this interface to request any desired invoice. Because the code in this example does not check to ensure that the user has permission to access the requested invoice, it will display any invoice, even if it does not belong to the current user.

See Also

Comprehensive Categorization: Access Control

Weaknesses in this category are related to access control.

OWASP Top Ten 2021 Category A01:2021 - Broken Access Control

Weaknesses in this category are related to the A01 category "Broken Access Control" in the OWASP Top Ten 2021.

Authorization Errors

Weaknesses in this category are related to authorization components of a system. Frequently these deal with the ability to enforce that agents have the required permis...

Comprehensive CWE Dictionary

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Weaknesses Introduced During Design

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Weakness Base Elements

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