CWE

Common Weakness Enumeration

A Community-Developed List of Software Weakness Types

CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Software Errors
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ID

CWE-119: Improper Restriction of Operations within the Bounds of a Memory Buffer

Weakness ID: 119
Abstraction: Class
Structure: Simple
Status: Usable
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The software performs operations on a memory buffer, but it can read from or write to a memory location that is outside of the intended boundary of the buffer.
+ Extended Description

Certain languages allow direct addressing of memory locations and do not automatically ensure that these locations are valid for the memory buffer that is being referenced. This can cause read or write operations to be performed on memory locations that may be associated with other variables, data structures, or internal program data.

As a result, an attacker may be able to execute arbitrary code, alter the intended control flow, read sensitive information, or cause the system to crash.

+ Relationships

The table(s) below shows the weaknesses and high level categories that are related to this weakness. These relationships are defined as ChildOf, ParentOf, MemberOf and give insight to similar items that may exist at higher and lower levels of abstraction. In addition, relationships such as PeerOf and CanAlsoBe are defined to show similar weaknesses that the user may want to explore.

+ Relevant to the view "Weaknesses for Simplified Mapping of Published Vulnerabilities" (CWE-1003)
+ Relevant to the view "Seven Pernicious Kingdoms" (CWE-700)
NatureTypeIDName
ChildOfClassClass20Improper Input Validation
+ Modes Of Introduction

The different Modes of Introduction provide information about how and when this weakness may be introduced. The Phase identifies a point in the software life cycle at which introduction may occur, while the Note provides a typical scenario related to introduction during the given phase.

PhaseNote
Architecture and Design
Implementation
Operation
+ Applicable Platforms
The listings below show possible areas for which the given weakness could appear. These may be for specific named Languages, Operating Systems, Architectures, Paradigms, Technologies, or a class of such platforms. The platform is listed along with how frequently the given weakness appears for that instance.

Languages

C: (Often Prevalent)

C++: (Often Prevalent)

(Assembly classes): (Undetermined Prevalence)

+ Common Consequences

The table below specifies different individual consequences associated with the weakness. The Scope identifies the application security area that is violated, while the Impact describes the negative technical impact that arises if an adversary succeeds in exploiting this weakness. The Likelihood provides information about how likely the specific consequence is expected to be seen relative to the other consequences in the list. For example, there may be high likelihood that a weakness will be exploited to achieve a certain impact, but a low likelihood that it will be exploited to achieve a different impact.

ScopeImpactLikelihood
Integrity
Confidentiality
Availability

Technical Impact: Execute Unauthorized Code or Commands; Modify Memory

If the memory accessible by the attacker can be effectively controlled, it may be possible to execute arbitrary code, as with a standard buffer overflow. If the attacker can overwrite a pointer's worth of memory (usually 32 or 64 bits), they can redirect a function pointer to their own malicious code. Even when the attacker can only modify a single byte arbitrary code execution can be possible. Sometimes this is because the same problem can be exploited repeatedly to the same effect. Other times it is because the attacker can overwrite security-critical application-specific data -- such as a flag indicating whether the user is an administrator.
Availability
Confidentiality

Technical Impact: Read Memory; DoS: Crash, Exit, or Restart; DoS: Resource Consumption (CPU); DoS: Resource Consumption (Memory)

Out of bounds memory access will very likely result in the corruption of relevant memory, and perhaps instructions, possibly leading to a crash. Other attacks leading to lack of availability are possible, including putting the program into an infinite loop.
Confidentiality

Technical Impact: Read Memory

In the case of an out-of-bounds read, the attacker may have access to sensitive information. If the sensitive information contains system details, such as the current buffers position in memory, this knowledge can be used to craft further attacks, possibly with more severe consequences.
+ Alternate Terms
Memory Corruption:The generic term "memory corruption" is often used to describe the consequences of writing to memory outside the bounds of a buffer, when the root cause is something other than a sequential copies of excessive data from a fixed starting location (i.e., classic buffer overflows or CWE-120). This may include issues such as incorrect pointer arithmetic, accessing invalid pointers due to incomplete initialization or memory release, etc.
+ Likelihood Of Exploit
High
+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

This example takes an IP address from a user, verifies that it is well formed and then looks up the hostname and copies it into a buffer.

(bad)
Example Language:
void host_lookup(char *user_supplied_addr){
struct hostent *hp;
in_addr_t *addr;
char hostname[64];
in_addr_t inet_addr(const char *cp);
/*routine that ensures user_supplied_addr is in the right format for conversion */

validate_addr_form(user_supplied_addr);
addr = inet_addr(user_supplied_addr);
hp = gethostbyaddr( addr, sizeof(struct in_addr), AF_INET);
strcpy(hostname, hp->h_name);

}

This function allocates a buffer of 64 bytes to store the hostname, however there is no guarantee that the hostname will not be larger than 64 bytes. If an attacker specifies an address which resolves to a very large hostname, then we may overwrite sensitive data or even relinquish control flow to the attacker.

Note that this example also contains an unchecked return value (CWE-252) that can lead to a NULL pointer dereference (CWE-476).

Example 2

This example applies an encoding procedure to an input string and stores it into a buffer.

(bad)
Example Language:
char * copy_input(char *user_supplied_string){
int i, dst_index;
char *dst_buf = (char*)malloc(4*sizeof(char) * MAX_SIZE);
if ( MAX_SIZE <= strlen(user_supplied_string) ){
die("user string too long, die evil hacker!");

}
dst_index = 0;
for ( i = 0; i < strlen(user_supplied_string); i++ ){
if( '&' == user_supplied_string[i] ){
dst_buf[dst_index++] = '&';
dst_buf[dst_index++] = 'a';
dst_buf[dst_index++] = 'm';
dst_buf[dst_index++] = 'p';
dst_buf[dst_index++] = ';';

}
else if ('<' == user_supplied_string[i] ){
/* encode to &lt; */

}
else dst_buf[dst_index++] = user_supplied_string[i];

}
return dst_buf;

}

The programmer attempts to encode the ampersand character in the user-controlled string, however the length of the string is validated before the encoding procedure is applied. Furthermore, the programmer assumes encoding expansion will only expand a given character by a factor of 4, while the encoding of the ampersand expands by 5. As a result, when the encoding procedure expands the string it is possible to overflow the destination buffer if the attacker provides a string of many ampersands.

Example 3

The following example asks a user for an offset into an array to select an item.

(bad)
Example Language:

int main (int argc, char **argv) {
char *items[] = {"boat", "car", "truck", "train"};
int index = GetUntrustedOffset();
printf("You selected %s\n", items[index-1]);

}

The programmer allows the user to specify which element in the list to select, however an attacker can provide an out-of-bounds offset, resulting in a buffer over-read (CWE-126).

Example 4

In the following code, the method retrieves a value from an array at a specific array index location that is given as an input parameter to the method

(bad)
Example Language:
int getValueFromArray(int *array, int len, int index) {

int value;
// check that the array index is less than the maximum
// length of the array

if (index < len) {
// get the value at the specified index of the array

value = array[index];

}
// if array index is invalid then output error message
// and return value indicating error

else {
printf("Value is: %d\n", array[index]);
value = -1;

}

return value;

}

However, this method only verifies that the given array index is less than the maximum length of the array but does not check for the minimum value (CWE-839). This will allow a negative value to be accepted as the input array index, which will result in a out of bounds read (CWE-125) and may allow access to sensitive memory. The input array index should be checked to verify that is within the maximum and minimum range required for the array (CWE-129). In this example the if statement should be modified to include a minimum range check, as shown below.

(good)
Example Language:

...
// check that the array index is within the correct
// range of values for the array

if (index >= 0 && index < len) {

...

Example 5

Windows provides the _mbs family of functions to perform various operations on multibyte strings. When these functions are passed a malformed multibyte string, such as a string containing a valid leading byte followed by a single null byte, they can read or write past the end of the string buffer causing a buffer overflow. The following functions all pose a risk of buffer overflow: _mbsinc _mbsdec _mbsncat _mbsncpy _mbsnextc _mbsnset _mbsrev _mbsset _mbsstr _mbstok _mbccpy _mbslen

+ Observed Examples
ReferenceDescription
Classic stack-based buffer overflow in media player using a long entry in a playlist
Heap-based buffer overflow in media player using a long entry in a playlist
large precision value in a format string triggers overflow
negative offset value leads to out-of-bounds read
malformed inputs cause accesses of uninitialized or previously-deleted objects, leading to memory corruption
chain: lack of synchronization leads to memory corruption
attacker-controlled array index leads to code execution
chain: -1 value from a function call was intended to indicate an error, but is used as an array index instead.
chain: incorrect calculations lead to incorrect pointer dereference and memory corruption
product accepts crafted messages that lead to a dereference of an arbitrary pointer
chain: malformed input causes dereference of uninitialized memory
OS kernel trusts userland-supplied length value, allowing reading of sensitive information
buffer overflow involving a regular expression with a large number of captures
chain: unchecked message size metadata allows integer overflow (CWE-190) leading to buffer overflow (CWE-119).
+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Requirements

Strategy: Language Selection

Use a language that does not allow this weakness to occur or provides constructs that make this weakness easier to avoid. For example, many languages that perform their own memory management, such as Java and Perl, are not subject to buffer overflows. Other languages, such as Ada and C#, typically provide overflow protection, but the protection can be disabled by the programmer. Be wary that a language's interface to native code may still be subject to overflows, even if the language itself is theoretically safe.

Phase: Architecture and Design

Strategy: Libraries or Frameworks

Use a vetted library or framework that does not allow this weakness to occur or provides constructs that make this weakness easier to avoid. Examples include the Safe C String Library (SafeStr) by Messier and Viega [REF-57], and the Strsafe.h library from Microsoft [REF-56]. These libraries provide safer versions of overflow-prone string-handling functions.
This is not a complete solution, since many buffer overflows are not related to strings.

Phase: Build and Compilation

Strategy: Compilation or Build Hardening

Run or compile the software using features or extensions that automatically provide a protection mechanism that mitigates or eliminates buffer overflows. For example, certain compilers and extensions provide automatic buffer overflow detection mechanisms that are built into the compiled code. Examples include the Microsoft Visual Studio /GS flag, Fedora/Red Hat FORTIFY_SOURCE GCC flag, StackGuard, and ProPolice.

Effectiveness: Defense in Depth

This is not necessarily a complete solution, since these mechanisms can only detect certain types of overflows. In addition, an attack could still cause a denial of service, since the typical response is to exit the application.

Phase: Implementation

Consider adhering to the following rules when allocating and managing an application's memory: Double check that your buffer is as large as you specify. When using functions that accept a number of bytes to copy, such as strncpy(), be aware that if the destination buffer size is equal to the source buffer size, it may not NULL-terminate the string. Check buffer boundaries if accessing the buffer in a loop and make sure you are not in danger of writing past the allocated space. If necessary, truncate all input strings to a reasonable length before passing them to the copy and concatenation functions.

Phase: Operation

Strategy: Environment Hardening

Run or compile the software using features or extensions that randomly arrange the positions of a program's executable and libraries in memory. Because this makes the addresses unpredictable, it can prevent an attacker from reliably jumping to exploitable code. Examples include Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR) [REF-58] [REF-60] and Position-Independent Executables (PIE) [REF-64].

Effectiveness: Defense in Depth

This is not a complete solution. However, it forces the attacker to guess an unknown value that changes every program execution. In addition, an attack could still cause a denial of service, since the typical response is to exit the application.

Phase: Operation

Strategy: Environment Hardening

Use a CPU and operating system that offers Data Execution Protection (NX) or its equivalent [REF-60] [REF-61].

Effectiveness: Defense in Depth

This is not a complete solution, since buffer overflows could be used to overwrite nearby variables to modify the software's state in dangerous ways. In addition, it cannot be used in cases in which self-modifying code is required. Finally, an attack could still cause a denial of service, since the typical response is to exit the application.

Phase: Implementation

Replace unbounded copy functions with analogous functions that support length arguments, such as strcpy with strncpy. Create these if they are not available.

Effectiveness: Moderate

This approach is still susceptible to calculation errors, including issues such as off-by-one errors (CWE-193) and incorrectly calculating buffer lengths (CWE-131).
+ Detection Methods

Automated Static Analysis

This weakness can often be detected using automated static analysis tools. Many modern tools use data flow analysis or constraint-based techniques to minimize the number of false positives.

Automated static analysis generally does not account for environmental considerations when reporting out-of-bounds memory operations. This can make it difficult for users to determine which warnings should be investigated first. For example, an analysis tool might report buffer overflows that originate from command line arguments in a program that is not expected to run with setuid or other special privileges.

Effectiveness: High

Detection techniques for buffer-related errors are more mature than for most other weakness types.

Automated Dynamic Analysis

This weakness can be detected using dynamic tools and techniques that interact with the software using large test suites with many diverse inputs, such as fuzz testing (fuzzing), robustness testing, and fault injection. The software's operation may slow down, but it should not become unstable, crash, or generate incorrect results.

Automated Static Analysis - Binary or Bytecode

According to SOAR, the following detection techniques may be useful:

Cost effective for partial coverage:
  • Binary / Bytecode Quality Analysis
  • Bytecode Weakness Analysis - including disassembler + source code weakness analysis
  • Binary Weakness Analysis - including disassembler + source code weakness analysis

Effectiveness: SOAR Partial

Manual Static Analysis - Binary or Bytecode

According to SOAR, the following detection techniques may be useful:

Cost effective for partial coverage:
  • Binary / Bytecode disassembler - then use manual analysis for vulnerabilities & anomalies

Effectiveness: SOAR Partial

Dynamic Analysis with Automated Results Interpretation

According to SOAR, the following detection techniques may be useful:

Cost effective for partial coverage:
  • Web Application Scanner
  • Web Services Scanner
  • Database Scanners

Effectiveness: SOAR Partial

Dynamic Analysis with Manual Results Interpretation

According to SOAR, the following detection techniques may be useful:

Cost effective for partial coverage:
  • Fuzz Tester
  • Framework-based Fuzzer

Effectiveness: SOAR Partial

Manual Static Analysis - Source Code

According to SOAR, the following detection techniques may be useful:

Cost effective for partial coverage:
  • Focused Manual Spotcheck - Focused manual analysis of source
  • Manual Source Code Review (not inspections)

Effectiveness: SOAR Partial

Automated Static Analysis - Source Code

According to SOAR, the following detection techniques may be useful:

Highly cost effective:
  • Source code Weakness Analyzer
  • Context-configured Source Code Weakness Analyzer
Cost effective for partial coverage:
  • Source Code Quality Analyzer

Effectiveness: High

Architecture or Design Review

According to SOAR, the following detection techniques may be useful:

Highly cost effective:
  • Formal Methods / Correct-By-Construction
Cost effective for partial coverage:
  • Inspection (IEEE 1028 standard) (can apply to requirements, design, source code, etc.)

Effectiveness: High

+ Affected Resources
  • Memory
+ Notes

Applicable Platform

It is possible in any programming languages without memory management support to attempt an operation outside of the bounds of a memory buffer, but the consequences will vary widely depending on the language, platform, and chip architecture.

+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
OWASP Top Ten 2004A5ExactBuffer Overflows
CERT C Secure CodingARR00-CUnderstand how arrays work
CERT C Secure CodingARR30-CCWE More AbstractDo not form or use out-of-bounds pointers or array subscripts
CERT C Secure CodingARR38-CCWE More AbstractGuarantee that library functions do not form invalid pointers
CERT C Secure CodingENV01-CDo not make assumptions about the size of an environment variable
CERT C Secure CodingEXP39-CImpreciseDo not access a variable through a pointer of an incompatible type
CERT C Secure CodingFIO37-CDo not assume character data has been read
CERT C Secure CodingSTR31-CCWE More AbstractGuarantee that storage for strings has sufficient space for character data and the null terminator
CERT C Secure CodingSTR32-CCWE More AbstractDo not pass a non-null-terminated character sequence to a library function that expects a string
WASC7Buffer Overflow
Software Fault PatternsSFP8Faulty Buffer Access
+ References
[REF-7] Michael Howard and David LeBlanc. "Writing Secure Code". Chapter 5, "Public Enemy #1: The Buffer Overrun" Page 127; Chapter 14, "Prevent I18N Buffer Overruns" Page 441. 2nd Edition. Microsoft Press. 2002-12-04. <https://www.microsoft.com/mspress/books/toc/5957.aspx>.
[REF-56] Microsoft. "Using the Strsafe.h Functions". <http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms647466.aspx>.
[REF-57] Matt Messier and John Viega. "Safe C String Library v1.0.3". <http://www.zork.org/safestr/>.
[REF-58] Michael Howard. "Address Space Layout Randomization in Windows Vista". <http://blogs.msdn.com/michael_howard/archive/2006/05/26/address-space-layout-randomization-in-windows-vista.aspx>.
[REF-59] Arjan van de Ven. "Limiting buffer overflows with ExecShield". <http://www.redhat.com/magazine/009jul05/features/execshield/>.
[REF-61] Microsoft. "Understanding DEP as a mitigation technology part 1". <http://blogs.technet.com/b/srd/archive/2009/06/12/understanding-dep-as-a-mitigation-technology-part-1.aspx>.
[REF-62] Mark Dowd, John McDonald and Justin Schuh. "The Art of Software Security Assessment". Chapter 5, "Memory Corruption", Page 167.. 1st Edition. Addison Wesley. 2006.
[REF-62] Mark Dowd, John McDonald and Justin Schuh. "The Art of Software Security Assessment". Chapter 5, "Protection Mechanisms", Page 189.. 1st Edition. Addison Wesley. 2006.
[REF-64] Grant Murphy. "Position Independent Executables (PIE)". Red Hat. 2012-11-28. <https://securityblog.redhat.com/2012/11/28/position-independent-executables-pie/>.
+ Content History
Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganizationSource
PLOVER
Modifications
Modification DateModifierOrganizationSource
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigital
updated Time_of_Introduction
2008-08-15Veracode
Suggested OWASP Top Ten 2004 mapping
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Description, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2008-10-14CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2008-11-24CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2009-01-12CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Likelihood_of_Exploit, Name, Potential_Mitigations, References, Relationships
2009-03-10CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Potential_Mitigations
2009-05-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2009-07-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Observed_Examples
2009-10-29CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Relationships, Time_of_Introduction
2009-12-28CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Detection_Factors, Observed_Examples
2010-02-16CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Alternate_Terms, Applicable_Platforms, Demonstrative_Examples, Detection_Factors, Potential_Mitigations, References, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2010-06-21CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Potential_Mitigations
2010-09-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Potential_Mitigations, Relationships
2010-12-13CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Name
2011-03-29CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Relationships
2011-09-13CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples, Potential_Mitigations, References, Relationships
2012-10-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Potential_Mitigations
2013-02-21CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2014-02-18CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Potential_Mitigations, References
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Detection_Factors, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2015-12-07CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2017-01-19CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2017-05-03CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2017-11-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Observed_Examples, References, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2008-04-11Buffer Errors
2009-01-12Failure to Constrain Operations within the Bounds of an Allocated Memory Buffer
2010-12-13Failure to Constrain Operations within the Bounds of a Memory Buffer

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Page Last Updated: November 14, 2017