WSTG - v4.1

Test Role Definitions



It is common in modern enterprises to define system roles to manage users and authorization to system resources. In most system implementations it is expected that at least two roles exist, administrators and regular users. The first representing a role that permits access to privileged and sensitive functionality and information, the second representing a role that permits access to regular business functionality and information. Well developed roles should align with business processes which are supported by the application.

It is important to remember that cold, hard authorization isn’t the only way to manage access to system objects. In more trusted environments where confidentiality is not critical, softer controls such as application workflow and audit logging can support data integrity requirements while not restricting user access to functionality or creating complex role structures that are difficult to manage. Its important to consider the Goldilocks principle when role engineering, in that defining too few, broad roles (thereby exposing access to functionality users don’t require) is as bad as too many, tightly tailored roles (thereby restricting access to functionality users do require).

Test Objectives

Validate the system roles defined within the application sufficiently define and separate each system and business role to manage appropriate access to system functionality and information.

How to Test

Either with or without the help of the system developers or administrators, develop an role versus permission matrix. The matrix should enumerate all the roles that can be provisioned and explore the permissions that are allowed to be applied to the objects including any constraints. If a matrix is provided with the application it should be validated by the tester, if it doesn’t exist, the tester should generate it and determine whether the matrix satisfies the desired access policy for the application.

Example 1

Administrator Read Customer records  
Manager Read Customer records Only records related to business unit
Staff Read Customer records Only records associated with customers assigned by Manager
Customer Read Customer record Only own record

A real world example of role definitions can be found in the WordPress roles documentation. WordPress has six default roles ranging from Super Admin to a Subscriber.

Example 2

Login with admin permission and access pages that only for administrator. Then, login as normal user and try to access those administrator pages URL directly.

  1. Login as administrator
  2. Visit admin page. i.e. http://targetSite/Admin
  3. Logout
  4. Login as normal user
  5. Visit the admin page URL directly. http://targetSite/Admin


While the most thorough and accurate approach to completing this test is to conduct it manually, spidering tools are also useful. Log on with each role in turn and spider the application (don’t forget to exclude the logout link from the spidering).



Remediation of the issues can take the following forms:

  • Role Engineering
  • Mapping of business roles to system roles
  • Separation of Duties