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-123: Write-what-where Condition

Weakness ID: 123
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
Status: Draft
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
Any condition where the attacker has the ability to write an arbitrary value to an arbitrary location, often as the result of a buffer overflow.
+ 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 "Research Concepts" (CWE-1000)
NatureTypeIDName
ChildOfClassClass - a weakness that is described in a very abstract fashion, typically independent of any specific language or technology. More general than a Base weakness.119Improper Restriction of Operations within the Bounds of a Memory Buffer
PeerOfBaseBase - a weakness that is described in an abstract fashion, but with sufficient details to infer specific methods for detection and prevention. More general than a Variant weakness, but more specific than a Class weakness.134Use of Externally-Controlled Format String
PeerOfVariantVariant - a weakness that is described at a very low level of detail, typically limited to a specific language or technology. More specific than a Base weakness.415Double Free
CanFollowBaseBase - a weakness that is described in an abstract fashion, but with sufficient details to infer specific methods for detection and prevention. More general than a Variant weakness, but more specific than a Class weakness.120Buffer Copy without Checking Size of Input ('Classic Buffer Overflow')
CanFollowBaseBase - a weakness that is described in an abstract fashion, but with sufficient details to infer specific methods for detection and prevention. More general than a Variant weakness, but more specific than a Class weakness.364Signal Handler Race Condition
CanFollowBaseBase - a weakness that is described in an abstract fashion, but with sufficient details to infer specific methods for detection and prevention. More general than a Variant weakness, but more specific than a Class weakness.416Use After Free
CanFollowVariantVariant - a weakness that is described at a very low level of detail, typically limited to a specific language or technology. More specific than a Base weakness.479Signal Handler Use of a Non-reentrant Function
CanFollowVariantVariant - a weakness that is described at a very low level of detail, typically limited to a specific language or technology. More specific than a Base weakness.590Free of Memory not on the Heap
+ Relevant to the view "Weaknesses for Simplified Mapping of Published Vulnerabilities" (CWE-1003)
NatureTypeIDName
ChildOfClassClass - a weakness that is described in a very abstract fashion, typically independent of any specific language or technology. More general than a Base weakness.119Improper Restriction of Operations within the Bounds of a Memory Buffer
+ Relevant to the view "Development Concepts" (CWE-699)
NatureTypeIDName
ChildOfClassClass - a weakness that is described in a very abstract fashion, typically independent of any specific language or technology. More general than a Base weakness.119Improper Restriction of Operations within the Bounds of a Memory Buffer
+ 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
Implementation
+ 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 (Undetermined Prevalence)

C++ (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
Access Control

Technical Impact: Modify Memory; Execute Unauthorized Code or Commands; Gain Privileges or Assume Identity; DoS: Crash, Exit, or Restart; Bypass Protection Mechanism

Clearly, write-what-where conditions can be used to write data to areas of memory outside the scope of a policy. Also, they almost invariably can be used to execute arbitrary code, which is usually outside the scope of a program's implicit security policy. 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.
Integrity
Availability

Technical Impact: DoS: Crash, Exit, or Restart; Modify Memory

Many memory accesses can lead to program termination, such as when writing to addresses that are invalid for the current process.
Access Control
Other

Technical Impact: Bypass Protection Mechanism; Other

When the consequence is arbitrary code execution, this can often be used to subvert any other security service.
+ Likelihood Of Exploit
High
+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

The classic example of a write-what-where condition occurs when the accounting information for memory allocations is overwritten in a particular fashion. Here is an example of potentially vulnerable code:

(bad code)
Example Language:
#define BUFSIZE 256
int main(int argc, char **argv) {
char *buf1 = (char *) malloc(BUFSIZE);
char *buf2 = (char *) malloc(BUFSIZE);
strcpy(buf1, argv[1]);
free(buf2);
}

Vulnerability in this case is dependent on memory layout. The call to strcpy() can be used to write past the end of buf1, and, with a typical layout, can overwrite the accounting information that the system keeps for buf2 when it is allocated. Note that if the allocation header for buf2 can be overwritten, buf2 itself can be overwritten as well.

The allocation header will generally keep a linked list of memory "chunks". Particularly, there may be a "previous" chunk and a "next" chunk. Here, the previous chunk for buf2 will probably be buf1, and the next chunk may be null. When the free() occurs, most memory allocators will rewrite the linked list using data from buf2. Particularly, the "next" chunk for buf1 will be updated and the "previous" chunk for any subsequent chunk will be updated. The attacker can insert a memory address for the "next" chunk and a value to write into that memory address for the "previous" chunk.

This could be used to overwrite a function pointer that gets dereferenced later, replacing it with a memory address that the attacker has legitimate access to, where they have placed malicious code, resulting in arbitrary code execution.

+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Architecture and Design

Strategy: Language Selection

Use a language that provides appropriate memory abstractions.

Phase: Operation

Use OS-level preventative functionality integrated after the fact. Not a complete solution.
+ Weakness Ordinalities
OrdinalityDescription
Resultant
(where the weakness is typically related to the presence of some other weaknesses)
+ Memberships
This MemberOf Relationships table shows additional CWE Categories and Views that reference this weakness as a member. This information is often useful in understanding where a weakness fits within the context of external information sources.
NatureTypeIDName
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.970SFP Secondary Cluster: Faulty Buffer Access
+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
CLASPWrite-what-where condition
Software Fault PatternsSFP8Faulty Buffer Access
CERT C Secure CodingARR30-CImpreciseDo not form or use out-of-bounds pointers or array subscripts
CERT C Secure CodingARR38-CImpreciseGuarantee that library functions do not form invalid pointers
CERT C Secure CodingSTR31-CImpreciseGuarantee that storage for strings has sufficient space for character data and the null terminator
CERT C Secure CodingSTR32-CImpreciseDo not pass a non-null-terminated character sequence to a library function that expects a string
+ References
[REF-44] Michael Howard, David LeBlanc and John Viega. "24 Deadly Sins of Software Security". "Sin 5: Buffer Overruns." Page 89. McGraw-Hill. 2010.
+ Content History
Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
CLASP
Modifications
Modification DateModifierOrganization
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigital
updated Time_of_Introduction
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, Common_Consequences, Relationships, Other_Notes, Taxonomy_Mappings, Weakness_Ordinalities
2008-11-24CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Other_Notes
2009-01-12CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences
2009-05-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2010-12-13CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, References, Relationships
2012-10-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2013-02-21CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Potential_Mitigations
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2015-12-07CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2017-11-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Causal_Nature, Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Taxonomy_Mappings

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Page Last Updated: March 29, 2018