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    Restrict path access to prevent path traversal

    Restrict path access to prevent path traversal

    Often we will refer to a file on disk or other resource using a path. For example, a path traversal attack is when an attacker supplies input that gets used with our path to access a file on the file system that we did not intend.

    The input usually attempts to break out of the application’s working directory and access a file elsewhere on the file system.

    You can mitigate this attack category by restricting the scope of file system access and reducing the attack surface by using a restricted file permission profile.


    A typical remote vector for path traversal in web applications might involve serving or storing files on the file system. Consider the following example:

    import os
    from flask import Flask, redirect, request, send_file
    app = Flask(__name__)
    def cat_picture():
        image_name = request.args.get('image_name')
        if not image_name:
            return 404
        return send_file(os.path.join(os.getcwd(), image_name))
    if __name__ == '__main__':

    As the attacker controls the input used directly in constructing a path, they can access any file on the system.

    For example, consider what happens if an attacker makes an API request like:


    Path traversal flaws also can happen when unpacking a compressed archive of files.

    In this case, a tar file from an untrusted source could be unpacked to overwrite files on the host operating system.

    import tarfile
    def untar_image(path, filename):
        tar_file =, 'r|gz')
        image_file = tar_file.get_names()[0]
        return os.path.join(path, image_file)


    The following example demonstrates how you can use python code to restrict access to files within a specific directory. This example is just one of the mechanisms that you can use to defeat path traversal.

    import os
    import sys
    def is_safe_path(basedir, path, follow_symlinks=True):
        # resolves symbolic links
        if follow_symlinks:
            matchpath = os.path.realpath(path)
            matchpath = os.path.abspath(path)
        return basedir == os.path.commonpath((basedir, matchpath))
    def main(args):
        for arg in args:
            if is_safe_path(os.getcwd(), arg):
                print("safe: {}".format(arg))
                print("unsafe: {}".format(arg))
    if __name__ == "__main__":

    Another approach to restricting file system access is maintaining an indirect mapping between a unique identifier and a file path on the operating system.

    This method prevents users from supplying malicious input for accessing unintended files.

    localfiles = {
      "01" : "/var/www/img/001.png",
      "02" : "/var/www/img/002.png",
      "03" : "/var/www/img/003.png",
    # Will raise an error if an invalid key is used.
    def get_file(file_id):
      return open(localfiles[file_id])


    Not validating file paths allows the attacker to read or write to any file the application has access to. This can lead to information leakage and can be used to pivot to other more serious attacks like remote code execution.