Information Disclosure

Revealing system data or debugging information helps an adversary learn about the system and form a plan of attack. An information leak occurs when system data or debugging information leaves the program through an output stream or logging function.

Example 1

The following code prints the path environment variable to the standard error stream:

char* path = getenv("PATH");
sprintf(stderr, "cannot find exe on path %s\n", path);
Example 2

The following code prints an exception to the standard error stream:

try {
} catch (Exception e) {

Depending upon the system configuration, this information can be dumped to a console, written to a log file, or exposed to a remote user. In some cases the error message tells the attacker precisely what sort of an attack the system will be vulnerable to. For example, a database error message can reveal that the application is vulnerable to a SQL injection attack. Other error messages can reveal more oblique clues about the system. In the example above, the search path could imply information about the type of operating system, the applications installed on the system, and the amount of care that the administrators have put into configuring the program.

Accidental leaking of sensitive information through data queries

When trying to keep information confidential, an attacker can often infer some of the information by using statistics.


Confidentiality: Sensitive information may possibly be disclosed through data queries accidentally.

Exposure period

Design: Proper mechanisms for preventing this kind of problem generally need to be identified at the design level. Avoidance and mitigation

This is a complex topic. See the book Translucent Databases for a good discussion of best practices.

In situations where data should not be tied to individual users, but a large number of users should be able to make queries that "scrub" the identity of users, it may be possible to get information about a user - e.g., by specifying search terms that are known to be unique to that user.

Accidental leaking of sensitive information through sent data

The accidental leaking of sensitive information through sent data refers to the transmission of data which is either sensitive in and of itself, or useful in the further exploitation of the system through standard data channels.


Confidentiality: Data leakage results in the compromise of data confidentiality.

Exposure period

  • Requirements specification: Information output may be specified in the requirements documentation.
  • Implementation: The final decision as to what data is sent is made at implementation time.
Avoidance and mitigation
  • Requirements specification: Specify data output such that no sensitive data is sent. Implementation: Ensure that any possibly sensitive data specified in the requirements is verified with designers to ensure that it is either a calculated risk or mitigated elsewhere.
Accidental data leakage occurs in several places and can essentially be defined as unnecessary data leakage. Any information that is not necessary to the functionality should be removed in order to lower both the overhead and the possibility of security sensitive data being sent.