Privacy Violation
Weakness ID: 359 (Weakness Class)Status: Incomplete
+ Description

Description Summary

Mishandling private information, such as customer passwords or social security numbers, can compromise user privacy and is often illegal.
+ Time of Introduction
  • Architecture and Design
  • Implementation
  • Operation
+ Applicable Platforms



+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

The following code contains a logging statement that tracks the contents of records added to a database by storing them in a log file. Among other values that are stored, the getPassword() function returns the user-supplied plaintext password associated with the account.

(Bad Code)
Example Language: C# 
pass = GetPassword();
dbmsLog.WriteLine(id + ":" + pass + ":" + type + ":" + tstamp);

The code in the example above logs a plaintext password to the filesystem. Although many developers trust the filesystem as a safe storage location for data, it should not be trusted implicitly, particularly when privacy is a concern.

+ Other Notes

Privacy violations occur when: 1. Private user information enters the program. 2. The data is written to an external location, such as the console, file system, or network.

Private data can enter a program in a variety of ways:

  • Directly from the user in the form of a password or personal information

  • Accessed from a database or other data store by the application

  • Indirectly from a partner or other third party

Sometimes data that is not labeled as private can have a privacy implication in a different context. For example, student identification numbers are usually not considered private because there is no explicit and publicly-available mapping to an individual student's personal information. However, if a school generates identification numbers based on student social security numbers, then the identification numbers should be considered private.

Security and privacy concerns often seem to compete with each other. From a security perspective, you should record all important operations so that any anomalous activity can later be identified. However, when private data is involved, this practice can in fact create risk. Although there are many ways in which private data can be handled unsafely, a common risk stems from misplaced trust. Programmers often trust the operating environment in which a program runs, and therefore believe that it is acceptable store private information on the file system, in the registry, or in other locally-controlled resources. However, even if access to certain resources is restricted, this does not guarantee that the individuals who do have access can be trusted.

For example, in 2004, an unscrupulous employee at AOL sold approximately 92 million private customer e-mail addresses to a spammer marketing an offshore gambling web site. In response to such high-profile exploits, the collection and management of private data is becoming increasingly regulated. Depending on its location, the type of business it conducts, and the nature of any private data it handles, an organization may be required to comply with one or more of the following federal and state regulations: - Safe Harbor Privacy Framework [REF-2] - Gramm-Leach Bliley Act (GLBA) [REF-3] - Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) [REF-4] - California SB-1386 [REF-5]

+ Relationships
NatureTypeIDNameView(s) this relationship pertains toView(s)
ChildOfWeakness ClassWeakness Class200Information Exposure
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ChildOfCategoryCategory254Security Features
Development Concepts (primary)699
Seven Pernicious Kingdoms (primary)700
ParentOfWeakness VariantWeakness Variant202Privacy Leak through Data Queries
Research Concepts (primary)1000
+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
7 Pernicious KingdomsPrivacy Violation
+ References
J. Oates. "AOL man pleads guilty to selling 92m email addies". The Register. 2005. <>.
[REF-2] U.S. Department of Commerce. "Safe Harbor Privacy Framework". <>.
[REF-3] Federal Trade Commission. "Financial Privacy: The Gramm-Leach Bliley Act (GLBA)". <>.
[REF-4] U.S. Department of Human Services. "Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)". <>.
[REF-5] Government of the State of California. "California SB-1386". 2002. <>.
+ Content History
Submission DateSubmitterOrganizationSource
7 Pernicious KingdomsExternally Mined
Modification DateModifierOrganizationSource
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigitalExternal
updated Time of Introduction
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships, Other Notes, Taxonomy Mappings
2009-03-10CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Other Notes
2009-07-27CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Demonstrative Examples
2009-12-28CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Other Notes, References