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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-129: Improper Validation of Array Index

Weakness ID: 129
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
Status: Draft
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The product uses untrusted input when calculating or using an array index, but the product does not validate or incorrectly validates the index to ensure the index references a valid position within the array.
+ 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)
+ Relevant to the view "Weaknesses for Simplified Mapping of Published Vulnerabilities" (CWE-1003)
NatureTypeIDName
ChildOfClassClass20Improper Input Validation
+ Relevant to the view "Development Concepts" (CWE-699)
NatureTypeIDName
MemberOfCategoryCategory189Numeric Errors
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
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: (Often Prevalent)

C++: (Often Prevalent)

(Language-Independent 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
Availability

Technical Impact: DoS: Crash, Exit, or Restart

Use of an index that is outside the bounds of an array will very likely result in the corruption of relevant memory and perhaps instructions, leading to a crash, if the values are outside of the valid memory area.
Integrity

Technical Impact: Modify Memory

If the memory corrupted is data, rather than instructions, the system will continue to function with improper values.
Confidentiality
Integrity

Technical Impact: Modify Memory; Read Memory

Use of an index that is outside the bounds of an array can also trigger out-of-bounds read or write operations, or operations on the wrong objects; i.e., "buffer overflows" are not always the result. This may result in the exposure or modification of sensitive data.
Integrity
Confidentiality
Availability

Technical Impact: Execute Unauthorized Code or Commands

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 and possibly without the use of large inputs if a precise index can be controlled.
Integrity
Availability
Confidentiality

Technical Impact: DoS: Crash, Exit, or Restart; Execute Unauthorized Code or Commands; Read Memory; Modify Memory

A single fault could allow either an overflow (CWE-788) or underflow (CWE-786) of the array index. What happens next will depend on the type of operation being performed out of bounds, but can expose sensitive information, cause a system crash, or possibly lead to arbitrary code execution.
+ Alternate Terms
out-of-bounds array index
index-out-of-range
array index underflow
+ Likelihood Of Exploit
High
+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

In the code snippet below, an untrusted integer value is used to reference an object in an array.

(bad)
Example Language: Java 
public String getValue(int index) {
return array[index];

}

If index is outside of the range of the array, this may result in an ArrayIndexOutOfBounds Exception being raised.

Example 2

The following example takes a user-supplied value to allocate an array of objects and then operates on the array.

(bad)
Example Language: Java 
private void buildList ( int untrustedListSize ){
if ( 0 > untrustedListSize ){
die("Negative value supplied for list size, die evil hacker!");

}
Widget[] list = new Widget [ untrustedListSize ];
list[0] = new Widget();

}

This example attempts to build a list from a user-specified value, and even checks to ensure a non-negative value is supplied. If, however, a 0 value is provided, the code will build an array of size 0 and then try to store a new Widget in the first location, causing an exception to be thrown.

Example 3

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 4

The following example retrieves the sizes of messages for a pop3 mail server. The message sizes are retrieved from a socket that returns in a buffer the message number and the message size, the message number (num) and size (size) are extracted from the buffer and the message size is placed into an array using the message number for the array index.

(bad)
Example Language:
/* capture the sizes of all messages */
int getsizes(int sock, int count, int *sizes) {
...
char buf[BUFFER_SIZE];
int ok;
int num, size;
// read values from socket and added to sizes array

while ((ok = gen_recv(sock, buf, sizeof(buf))) == 0)
{
// continue read from socket until buf only contains '.'

if (DOTLINE(buf))
break;

else if (sscanf(buf, "%d %d", &num, &size) == 2)
sizes[num - 1] = size;

}
...

}

In this example the message number retrieved from the buffer could be a value that is outside the allowable range of indices for the array and could possibly be a negative number. Without proper validation of the value to be used for the array index an array overflow could occur and could potentially lead to unauthorized access to memory addresses and system crashes. The value of the array index should be validated to ensure that it is within the allowable range of indices for the array as in the following code.

(good)
Example Language:
/* capture the sizes of all messages */
int getsizes(int sock, int count, int *sizes) {
...
char buf[BUFFER_SIZE];
int ok;
int num, size;
// read values from socket and added to sizes array

while ((ok = gen_recv(sock, buf, sizeof(buf))) == 0)
{
// continue read from socket until buf only contains '.'

if (DOTLINE(buf))
break;

else if (sscanf(buf, "%d %d", &num, &size) == 2) {
if (num > 0 && num <= (unsigned)count)
sizes[num - 1] = size;

else
/* warn about possible attempt to induce buffer overflow */
report(stderr, "Warning: ignoring bogus data for message sizes returned by server.\n");

}

}
...

}

Example 5

In the following example the method displayProductSummary is called from a Web service servlet to retrieve product summary information for display to the user. The servlet obtains the integer value of the product number from the user and passes it to the displayProductSummary method. The displayProductSummary method passes the integer value of the product number to the getProductSummary method which obtains the product summary from the array object containing the project summaries using the integer value of the product number as the array index.

(bad)
Example Language: Java 
// Method called from servlet to obtain product information
public String displayProductSummary(int index) {
String productSummary = new String("");

try {
String productSummary = getProductSummary(index);


} catch (Exception ex) {...}

return productSummary;

}

public String getProductSummary(int index) {
return products[index];

}

In this example the integer value used as the array index that is provided by the user may be outside the allowable range of indices for the array which may provide unexpected results or cause the application to fail. The integer value used for the array index should be validated to ensure that it is within the allowable range of indices for the array as in the following code.

(good)
Example Language: Java 
// Method called from servlet to obtain product information
public String displayProductSummary(int index) {
String productSummary = new String("");

try {
String productSummary = getProductSummary(index);


} catch (Exception ex) {...}

return productSummary;

}

public String getProductSummary(int index) {
String productSummary = "";

if ((index >= 0) && (index < MAX_PRODUCTS)) {
productSummary = products[index];

}
else {
System.err.println("index is out of bounds");
throw new IndexOutOfBoundsException();

}

return productSummary;

}

An alternative in Java would be to use one of the collection objects such as ArrayList that will automatically generate an exception if an attempt is made to access an array index that is out of bounds.

(good)
Example Language: Java 
ArrayList productArray = new ArrayList(MAX_PRODUCTS);
...
try {
productSummary = (String) productArray.get(index);

} catch (IndexOutOfBoundsException ex) {...}

Example 6

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).

+ Observed Examples
ReferenceDescription
large ID in packet used as array index
negative array index as argument to POP LIST command
Integer signedness error leads to negative array index
product does not properly track a count and a maximum number, which can lead to resultant array index overflow.
Chain: device driver for packet-capturing software allows access to an unintended IOCTL with resultant array index error.
Chain: array index error (CWE-129) leads to deadlock (CWE-833)
+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Architecture and Design

Strategy: Input Validation

Use an input validation framework such as Struts or the OWASP ESAPI Validation API. If you use Struts, be mindful of weaknesses covered by the CWE-101 category.

Phase: Architecture and Design

Strategy: Libraries or Frameworks

Use an input validation framework such as Struts or the OWASP ESAPI Validation API. If you use Struts, be mindful of weaknesses covered by the CWE-101 category.

Phase: Architecture and Design

For any security checks that are performed on the client side, ensure that these checks are duplicated on the server side, in order to avoid CWE-602. Attackers can bypass the client-side checks by modifying values after the checks have been performed, or by changing the client to remove the client-side checks entirely. Then, these modified values would be submitted to the server. Even though client-side checks provide minimal benefits with respect to server-side security, they are still useful. First, they can support intrusion detection. If the server receives input that should have been rejected by the client, then it may be an indication of an attack. Second, client-side error-checking can provide helpful feedback to the user about the expectations for valid input. Third, there may be a reduction in server-side processing time for accidental input errors, although this is typically a small savings.

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, Ada allows the programmer to constrain the values of a variable and languages such as Java and Ruby will allow the programmer to handle exceptions when an out-of-bounds index is accessed.

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

Strategy: Input Validation

Assume all input is malicious. Use an "accept known good" input validation strategy, i.e., use a whitelist of acceptable inputs that strictly conform to specifications. Reject any input that does not strictly conform to specifications, or transform it into something that does. When performing input validation, consider all potentially relevant properties, including length, type of input, the full range of acceptable values, missing or extra inputs, syntax, consistency across related fields, and conformance to business rules. As an example of business rule logic, "boat" may be syntactically valid because it only contains alphanumeric characters, but it is not valid if the input is only expected to contain colors such as "red" or "blue." Do not rely exclusively on looking for malicious or malformed inputs (i.e., do not rely on a blacklist). A blacklist is likely to miss at least one undesirable input, especially if the code's environment changes. This can give attackers enough room to bypass the intended validation. However, blacklists can be useful for detecting potential attacks or determining which inputs are so malformed that they should be rejected outright. When accessing a user-controlled array index, use a stringent range of values that are within the target array. Make sure that you do not allow negative values to be used. That is, verify the minimum as well as the maximum of the range of acceptable values.

Phase: Implementation

Be especially careful to validate all input when invoking code that crosses language boundaries, such as from an interpreted language to native code. This could create an unexpected interaction between the language boundaries. Ensure that you are not violating any of the expectations of the language with which you are interfacing. For example, even though Java may not be susceptible to buffer overflows, providing a large argument in a call to native code might trigger an overflow.

Phases: Architecture and Design; Operation

Strategy: Environment Hardening

Run your code using the lowest privileges that are required to accomplish the necessary tasks [REF-76]. If possible, create isolated accounts with limited privileges that are only used for a single task. That way, a successful attack will not immediately give the attacker access to the rest of the software or its environment. For example, database applications rarely need to run as the database administrator, especially in day-to-day operations.

Phases: Architecture and Design; Operation

Strategy: Sandbox or Jail

Run the code in a "jail" or similar sandbox environment that enforces strict boundaries between the process and the operating system. This may effectively restrict which files can be accessed in a particular directory or which commands can be executed by the software. OS-level examples include the Unix chroot jail, AppArmor, and SELinux. In general, managed code may provide some protection. For example, java.io.FilePermission in the Java SecurityManager allows the software to specify restrictions on file operations. This may not be a feasible solution, and it only limits the impact to the operating system; the rest of the application may still be subject to compromise. Be careful to avoid CWE-243 and other weaknesses related to jails.

Effectiveness: Limited

The effectiveness of this mitigation depends on the prevention capabilities of the specific sandbox or jail being used and might only help to reduce the scope of an attack, such as restricting the attacker to certain system calls or limiting the portion of the file system that can be accessed.
+ Weakness Ordinalities
OrdinalityDescription
Resultant
+ 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 array index errors that originate from command line arguments in a program that is not expected to run with setuid or other special privileges.

Effectiveness: High

This is not a perfect solution, since 100% accuracy and coverage are not feasible.

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.

Black Box

Black box methods might not get the needed code coverage within limited time constraints, and a dynamic test might not produce any noticeable side effects even if it is successful.
+ Affected Resources
  • Memory
+ 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.
+ Notes

Relationship

This weakness can precede uncontrolled memory allocation (CWE-789) in languages that automatically expand an array when an index is used that is larger than the size of the array, such as JavaScript.

Theoretical

An improperly validated array index might lead directly to the always-incorrect behavior of "access of array using out-of-bounds index."
+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
CLASPUnchecked array indexing
PLOVERINDEX - Array index overflow
CERT C Secure CodingARR00-CUnderstand how arrays work
CERT C Secure CodingARR30-CCWE More SpecificDo not form or use out-of-bounds pointers or array subscripts
CERT C Secure CodingARR38-CDo not add or subtract an integer to a pointer if the resulting value does not refer to a valid array element
CERT C Secure CodingINT32-CEnsure that operations on signed integers do not result in overflow
CERT Perl Secure CodingIDS32-PLImpreciseValidate any integer that is used as an array index
Software Fault PatternsSFP8Faulty Buffer Access
+ References
[REF-7] Michael Howard and David LeBlanc. "Writing Secure Code". Chapter 5, "Array Indexing Errors" Page 144. 2nd Edition. Microsoft Press. 2002-12-04. <https://www.microsoft.com/mspress/books/toc/5957.aspx>.
[REF-96] Jason Lam. "Top 25 Series - Rank 14 - Improper Validation of Array Index". SANS Software Security Institute. 2010-03-12. <http://blogs.sans.org/appsecstreetfighter/2010/03/12/top-25-series-rank-14-improper-validation-of-array-index/>.
[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-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-76] Sean Barnum and Michael Gegick. "Least Privilege". 2005-09-14. <https://buildsecurityin.us-cert.gov/daisy/bsi/articles/knowledge/principles/351.html>.
[REF-44] Michael Howard, David LeBlanc and John Viega. "24 Deadly Sins of Software Security". "Sin 5: Buffer Overruns." Page 89. McGraw-Hill. 2010.
[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
CLASP
Modifications
Modification DateModifierOrganizationSource
2008-07-01Sean EidemillerCigital
added/updated demonstrative examples
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Alternate_Terms, Applicable_Platforms, Common_Consequences, Relationships, Other_Notes, Taxonomy_Mappings, Weakness_Ordinalities
2008-11-24CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2009-01-12CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences
2009-10-29CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Description, Name, Relationships
2009-12-28CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, Common_Consequences, Observed_Examples, Other_Notes, Potential_Mitigations, Theoretical_Notes, Weakness_Ordinalities
2010-02-16CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, Demonstrative_Examples, Detection_Factors, Likelihood_of_Exploit, Potential_Mitigations, References, Related_Attack_Patterns, Relationships
2010-04-05CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Related_Attack_Patterns
2010-06-21CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Potential_Mitigations, References
2010-09-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Potential_Mitigations, Relationship_Notes, Relationships
2010-12-13CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples, Observed_Examples, Potential_Mitigations
2011-03-29CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Weakness_Ordinalities
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences
2011-06-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated 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
2014-02-18CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Potential_Mitigations, References
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2015-12-07CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2017-11-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Causal_Nature, References, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2009-10-29Unchecked Array Indexing

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Page Last Updated: November 14, 2017