Failure to check whether privileges were dropped successfully

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This is a Vulnerability. To view all vulnerabilities, please see the Vulnerability Category page.

ASDR Table of Contents

Last revision (mm/dd/yy): 11/2/2008


If one changes security privileges, one should ensure that the change was successful.


  • Authorization: If privileges are not dropped, neither are access rights of the user. Often these rights can be prevented from being dropped.
  • Authentication: If privileges are not dropped, in some cases the system may record actions as the user which is being impersonated rather than the impersonator.

Exposure period

  • Implementation: Properly check all return values.


  • Language: C, C++, Java, or any language which can make system calls or has its own privilege system.
  • Operating platforms: UNIX, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, or any platform which has access control or authentication.

Required resources

A process with changed privileges.


Very High

Likelihood of exploit


In Microsoft operating environments that have access control, impersonation is used so that access checks can be performed on a client identity by a server with higher privileges. By impersonating the client, the server is restricted to client-level security - although in different threads it may have much higher privileges.

Code which relies on this for security must ensure that the impersonation succeeded - i.e., that a proper privilege demotion happened.

Risk Factors



In C/C++

bool DoSecureStuff(HANDLE hPipe){ {
   bool fDataWritten = false;
   HANDLE hFile = CreateFile(...);
   /../ RevertToSelf()/../

Since we did not check the return value of ImpersonateNamedPipeClient, we do not know if the call succeeded.

Related Attacks

Related Vulnerabilities

Related Controls

  • Implementation: In Windows make sure that the process token has the SeImpersonatePrivilege(Microsoft Server 2003).
  • Implementation: Always check all of your return values.

Related Technical Impacts