Common Weakness Enumeration

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CWE-1242: Inclusion of Undocumented Features or Chicken Bits

Weakness ID: 1242
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
Status: Incomplete
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The device includes chicken bits or undocumented features that can create entry points for unauthorized actors.
+ Extended Description

A common design practice is to use undocumented bits on a device that can be used to disable certain functional security features. These bits are commonly referred to as "chicken bits". They can facilitate quick identification and isolation of faulty components, features that negatively affect performance, or features that do not provide the required controllability for debug and test. Another way to achieve this is through implementation of undocumented features. An attacker might exploit these interfaces for unauthorized access.

+ 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)
ChildOfPillarPillar - a weakness that is the most abstract type of weakness and represents a theme for all class/base/variant weaknesses related to it. A Pillar is different from a Category as a Pillar is still technically a type of weakness that describes a mistake, while a Category represents a common characteristic used to group related things.284Improper Access Control
+ Relevant to the view "Hardware Design" (CWE-1194)
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1198Privilege Separation and Access Control Issues
+ 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 life cycle at which introduction may occur, while the Note provides a typical scenario related to introduction during the given phase.

Architecture and Design
+ 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.


Class: Language-Independent (Undetermined Prevalence)

Operating Systems

Class: OS-Independent (Undetermined Prevalence)


Class: Architecture-Independent (Undetermined Prevalence)


Class: Technology-Independent (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.

Access Control

Technical Impact: Modify Memory; Read Memory; Execute Unauthorized Code or Commands; Gain Privileges or Assume Identity; Bypass Protection Mechanism

+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

Consider a device that comes with various security measures, such as secure boot. The secure-boot process performs firmware-integrity verification at boot time, and this code is stored in a separate SPI-flash device. However, this code contains undocumented "special access features" intended to be used only for performing failure analysis and intended to only be unlocked by the device designer.

(bad code)
Example Language: Other 
Attackers dump the code from the device and then perform reverse engineering to analyze the code. The undocumented, special-access features are identified, and attackers can activate them by sending specific commands via UART before secure-boot phase completes. Using these hidden features, attackers can perform reads and writes to memory via the UART interface. At runtime, the attackers can also execute arbitrary code and dump the entire memory contents.

Remove all chicken bits and hidden features that are exposed to attackers. Add authorization schemes that rely on cryptographic primitives to access any features that the manufacturer does not want to expose. Clearly document all interfaces.

+ Potential Mitigations

Phases: Architecture and Design; Implementation

The implementation of chicken bits in a released product is highly discouraged. If implemented at all, ensure that they are disabled in production devices. All interfaces to a device should be documented.

Effectiveness: High

+ References
[REF-1071] Ali Abbasi, Tobias Scharnowski and Thorsten Holz. "Doors of Durin: The Veiled Gate to Siemens S7 Silicon". <>.
[REF-1072] Sergei Skorobogatov and Christopher Woods. "Breakthrough Silicon Scanning Discovers Backdoor in Military Chip". <>.
[REF-1073] Chris Domas. "God Mode Unlocked: Hardware Backdoors in x86 CPUs". <>.
[REF-1074] Jonathan Brossard. "Hardware Backdooring is Practical". <>.
[REF-1075] Sergei Skorabogatov. "Security, Reliability, and Backdoors". <>.
+ Content History
+ Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
2020-02-13Arun Kanuparthi, Hareesh Khattri, Parbati Kumar Manna, Narasimha Kumar V MangipudiIntel Corporation
+ Modifications
Modification DateModifierOrganization
2020-08-20CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Potential_Mitigations, Related_Attack_Patterns
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Page Last Updated: August 20, 2020