Security for everyone

Insecure Authorization

Authorization defines the processes required to access a resource. Authorization is about what actions an identity (user, token, network address) can and cannot do after verification.

Note: Authentication and Authorization are often confused. Authentication defines the processes required to authenticate an identity or data. Authentication deals with verifying who you are, while authorization deals with verifying what you can do.

Minor mistakes made in authorization processes can cause cyber attackers to perform unauthorized operations. For example, failure to check every request for authorization on the backend side results in unauthorized access to information on the application. In addition, cyber attackers try many ways to modify data or workflows to privilege escalation. With successful privilege escalation attacks, cyber attackers can have the highest privileged access.

Furthermore, hackers could gain control of the system and disrupt business operations, which could result in direct revenue loss and additional costs associated with recovery efforts. It's also worth noting that regulatory bodies may impose hefty fines on organizations that fail to adequately protect their data, further amplifying the financial impact. The violation of privacy associated with data breaches can lead to lawsuits, further adding to the financial and reputational loss. Therefore, it's absolutely critical that organizations implement robust authorization controls to mitigate these risks.

Not performing authorization checks on certain pages, missing or incorrect controls for parameters-dependent entities (for example, IDOR vulnerability), misuse of redirect operations can be given as examples of this vulnerability.

In the circumstances that any vulnerability is detected in the Insecure Authorization category, the following topics should be taken into consideration (precedence of the case might change to vulnerability state and application's specifications).

  • After the vulnerability is confirmed, it should be determined whether cyber attackers triggered the vulnerability by examining the logs.
  • If there are accounts that are affected by the vulnerability, actions that will secure these accounts (notification, password change, disabling account, etc.) should be performed.
  • Situations that require updating within the application should be put into production after testing.
  • Authorization checks should be performed for all necessary pages after every request from the user.
  • Especially logging abnormal requests and terminating the user's authentication increases the monitor capability by reducing the attack surface.

Here are a few essential tips to enhance secure authorization practices:

  • Use strong passwords: Create complex and unique passwords for all accounts. Avoid common words or phrases, and incorporate a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): MFA adds an extra layer of protection to your accounts, requiring multiple forms of identification to verify your identity.
  • Regularly update credentials: Change your passwords regularly and avoid reusing old passwords. 
  • Limit Permissions: Only provide access to information or resources that a user needs to fulfill their role.
  • Implement Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): RBAC limits network access based on a person's role within the organization, which can minimize the potential for unauthorized access.
  • Educate Employees: Regularly educate your employees about the importance of secure authorization and the potential risks of lax security practices. 

Insecure Authorization vulnerabilities are distressingly common within the realm of cybersecurity. According to recent data from the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), authorization flaws rank in the top five most common software vulnerabilities. Furthermore, a study by Positive Technologies found that Insecure Authorization vulnerabilities are present in nearly 42% of web applications. This means that nearly half of all web applications could potentially be exploited by malicious actors due to inadequate authorization controls. These statistics highlight the urgency of implementing strong authorization practices to protect against potential cyber threats.

Common Weakness Enumeration (CWE) Regarding Insecure Authorization

In the world of software and computer systems, there are common mistakes or weak spots that developers might accidentally introduce. These mistakes can make the software or system vulnerable to attacks or failures.

Common Weakness Enumeration (CWE)  is a big list of all these common mistakes, so that developers could check against it and avoid making the same errors.

CWE-1230: Exposure of Sensitive Information Through Metadata

The CWE-1230 refers to a situation where sensitive data is unintentionally exposed through metadata associated with files, resources, or communications. Metadata, often referred to as "data about data," can include details such as the file creator, timestamps, or location data. In the context of cybersecurity, if this metadata is not properly controlled, it can reveal sensitive information to unauthorized users, thereby creating an Insecure Authorization vulnerability. This could potentially lead to information leakage, privacy breaches, or even more serious cyberattacks if the exposed data is of critical importance. Therefore, it's essential to secure metadata by implementing robust security measures, like access controls and encryption, especially when dealing with sensitive information.

CWE-1220: Insufficient Granularity of Access Control

CWE-1220 refers to a scenario where access control mechanisms do not provide a sufficient level of detail in their permissions. This means that the system may not adequately distinguish between the different levels of access that various users should have. For instance, a user with basic privileges might accidentally gain access to confidential data or critical operations meant for administrators. This situation constitutes an Insecure Authorization vulnerability, as the system fails to properly authorize the actions of its users. To mitigate such risks, it's crucial to implement granular access controls that differentiate user roles and permissions, ensuring that each user only has access to the data and functionality required for their role. Implementing these controls effectively can help prevent unauthorized data access and potential cyber threats.

CWE-842: Placement of User into Incorrect Group

CWE-842 relates to the incorrect placement of a user into a group, which can lead to Insecure Authorization vulnerabilities. In simpler terms, this occurs when a user is wrongly assigned to a group within a software system. This can give them access to information or functionality that they should not have, which can pose significant security risks. This situation could be likened to handing over the keys to a house to an unauthorized person. Therefore, it's vital to have accurate user group classifications in place and double-check group assignments, ensuring that each user is placed in the correct group with appropriate access privileges. Failing to do so can inadvertently open loopholes for cyber threats.

CWE-939: Improper Authorization in Handler for Custom URL Scheme

CWE-939 refers to 'Improper Authorization in Handler for Custom URL Scheme.' In layman's terms, this means that a software system may not properly check whether a user has the right to carry out certain actions when they click on a custom URL, or web address. This is akin to giving someone a special key to your home, but not checking if they're actually allowed to enter certain rooms. To prevent this type of Insecure Authorization vulnerability, it's essential to verify users' permissions each time they use a custom URL. Not doing this could potentially give unauthorized access to sensitive areas of the system, escalating the risk of cyber security threats.

CWE-653: Improper Isolation or Compartmentalization

CWE-653, or 'Improper Isolation or Compartmentalization,' is a situation in software where different functionalities or user levels are not adequately isolated from each other. Think of it like a house where there are no walls or doors separating the rooms - everyone inside can access every room, regardless of whether they should be able to. Not having these boundaries in place within a software system can lead to Insecure Authorization vulnerabilities, as users may gain access to areas they should not have access to. To prevent this, it's crucial to clearly define and enforce boundaries and restrictions within the system, ensuring that users can only access what they are authorized to. This will significantly reduce the risk of potential cyber security threats.

CWE-552: Files or Directories Accessible to External Parties

CWE-552 refers to a scenario where files or directories within a software system are accessible to external parties. In simple terms, it's like leaving your important files and documents out in the open where anyone can read or modify them. This type of Insecure Authorization vulnerability exposes sensitive data to unauthorized individuals, compromising the integrity and security of the software. To mitigate this risk, it's vital to implement robust access control measures, ensuring that only authorized users can access specific files or directories. This includes setting appropriate permissions and regularly auditing the system to identify and rectify any potential access control weaknesses.

CWE-639: Authorization Bypass Through User-Controlled Key

CWE-639 refers to a situation where the user can control the key that is used to authorize access, almost like having the ability to create their own key to your house. This type of Insecure Authorization vulnerability can happen when a software system mistakenly allows users to define their own access rights, leading to unauthorized access and potential cyber security threats. It's like giving someone the ability to set their own permissions in your home, potentially gaining access to areas they shouldn't. To prevent this, it is critical to ensure that the keys for authorization are securely managed and not user-controllable. Regular audits and system checks can help identify any user-controlled keys, allowing for prompt correction and strengthening of the software's security measures.

CWE-551: Incorrect Behavior Order: Authorization Before Parsing and Canonicalization

CWE-551 refers to a sequence error in software, where authorization checks are performed before the software properly parses and canonicalizes an input or request. Essentially, it's like a bouncer at a club checking IDs before checking if the ID is actually valid or if it's been tampered with. This kind of Insecure Authorization vulnerability can lead to unauthorized access, as the system might approve a malformed or malicious request before fully understanding what it entails. To prevent this, it's essential that the system fully understands, or parses, a request before giving it the green light. Regular security audits and proper system configuration can help ensure the right sequence of actions, improving the software's overall cyber security.

CWE-425: Direct Request ('Forced Browsing')

CWE-425, also known as 'Forced Browsing', is another form of Insecure Authorization vulnerability. In simple terms, it's like finding an unlocked door in a house and walking right in, even though you weren't invited. This happens when a software system mistakenly assumes that users will only access services and functions they're supposed to, and doesn't take adequate measures to enforce this. For example, a malicious user could guess or discover the URL of a restricted webpage, and directly enter that URL into their browser, bypassing any intended access controls. To prevent Forced Browsing, it's vital to enforce strict access controls at every level of your software, not just the user interface. Regular cyber security audits can help identify and correct such vulnerabilities, keeping your software secure.

The Top 6 Insecure Authorization Scanning Tools 

The Top 6 insecure authorization scanning tools that is used by our members:


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