Common Weakness Enumeration

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CWE-259: Use of Hard-coded Password

Use of Hard-coded Password
Weakness ID: 259 (Weakness Base)Status: Draft
+ Description

Description Summary

The software contains a hard-coded password, which it uses for its own inbound authentication or for outbound communication to external components.

Extended Description

A hard-coded password typically leads to a significant authentication failure that can be difficult for the system administrator to detect. Once detected, it can be difficult to fix, so the administrator may be forced into disabling the product entirely. There are two main variations:

Inbound: the software contains an authentication mechanism that checks for a hard-coded password.

Outbound: the software connects to another system or component, and it contains hard-coded password for connecting to that component.

In the Inbound variant, a default administration account is created, and a simple password is hard-coded into the product and associated with that account. This hard-coded password is the same for each installation of the product, and it usually cannot be changed or disabled by system administrators without manually modifying the program, or otherwise patching the software. If the password is ever discovered or published (a common occurrence on the Internet), then anybody with knowledge of this password can access the product. Finally, since all installations of the software will have the same password, even across different organizations, this enables massive attacks such as worms to take place.

The Outbound variant applies to front-end systems that authenticate with a back-end service. The back-end service may require a fixed password which can be easily discovered. The programmer may simply hard-code those back-end credentials into the front-end software. Any user of that program may be able to extract the password. Client-side systems with hard-coded passwords pose even more of a threat, since the extraction of a password from a binary is usually very simple.

+ Time of Introduction
  • Implementation
  • Architecture and Design
+ Applicable Platforms



+ Common Consequences
Access Control

Technical Impact: Gain privileges / assume identity

If hard-coded passwords are used, it is almost certain that malicious users will gain access through the account in question.

+ Likelihood of Exploit

Very High

+ Detection Methods

Manual Analysis

This weakness can be detected using tools and techniques that require manual (human) analysis, such as penetration testing, threat modeling, and interactive tools that allow the tester to record and modify an active session.

These may be more effective than strictly automated techniques. This is especially the case with weaknesses that are related to design and business rules.

Black Box

Use monitoring tools that examine the software's process as it interacts with the operating system and the network. This technique is useful in cases when source code is unavailable, if the software was not developed by you, or if you want to verify that the build phase did not introduce any new weaknesses. Examples include debuggers that directly attach to the running process; system-call tracing utilities such as truss (Solaris) and strace (Linux); system activity monitors such as FileMon, RegMon, Process Monitor, and other Sysinternals utilities (Windows); and sniffers and protocol analyzers that monitor network traffic.

Attach the monitor to the process and perform a login. Using disassembled code, look at the associated instructions and see if any of them appear to be comparing the input to a fixed string or value.

+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

The following code uses a hard-coded password to connect to a database:

(Bad Code)
Example Language: Java 
DriverManager.getConnection(url, "scott", "tiger");

This is an example of an external hard-coded password on the client-side of a connection. This code will run successfully, but anyone who has access to it will have access to the password. Once the program has shipped, there is no going back from the database user "scott" with a password of "tiger" unless the program is patched. A devious employee with access to this information can use it to break into the system. Even worse, if attackers have access to the bytecode for application, they can use the javap -c command to access the disassembled code, which will contain the values of the passwords used. The result of this operation might look something like the following for the example above:

javap -c ConnMngr.class
22: ldc #36; //String jdbc:mysql://
24: ldc #38; //String scott
26: ldc #17; //String tiger

Example 2

The following code is an example of an internal hard-coded password in the back-end:

(Bad Code)
Example Languages: C and C++ 
int VerifyAdmin(char *password) {
if (strcmp(password, "Mew!")) {

printf("Incorrect Password!\n");
printf("Entering Diagnostic Mode...\n");
(Bad Code)
Example Language: Java 
int VerifyAdmin(String password) {
if (passwd.Equals("Mew!")) {
//Diagnostic Mode

Every instance of this program can be placed into diagnostic mode with the same password. Even worse is the fact that if this program is distributed as a binary-only distribution, it is very difficult to change that password or disable this "functionality."

Example 3

The following examples show a portion of properties and configuration files for Java and ASP.NET applications. The files include username and password information but they are stored in plaintext.

This Java example shows a properties file with a plaintext username / password pair.

(Bad Code)
Example Language: Java 
# Java Web App ResourceBundle properties file

The following example shows a portion of a configuration file for an ASP.Net application. This configuration file includes username and password information for a connection to a database but the pair is stored in plaintext.

(Bad Code)
Example Language: ASP.NET 
<add name="ud_DEV" connectionString="connectDB=uDB; uid=db2admin; pwd=password; dbalias=uDB;" providerName="System.Data.Odbc" />

Username and password information should not be included in a configuration file or a properties file in plaintext as this will allow anyone who can read the file access to the resource. If possible, encrypt this information and avoid CWE-260 and CWE-13.

+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Architecture and Design

For outbound authentication: store passwords outside of the code in a strongly-protected, encrypted configuration file or database that is protected from access by all outsiders, including other local users on the same system. Properly protect the key (CWE-320). If you cannot use encryption to protect the file, then make sure that the permissions are as restrictive as possible.

Phase: Architecture and Design

For inbound authentication: Rather than hard-code a default username and password for first time logins, utilize a "first login" mode that requires the user to enter a unique strong password.

Phase: Architecture and Design

Perform access control checks and limit which entities can access the feature that requires the hard-coded password. For example, a feature might only be enabled through the system console instead of through a network connection.

Phase: Architecture and Design

For inbound authentication: apply strong one-way hashes to your passwords and store those hashes in a configuration file or database with appropriate access control. That way, theft of the file/database still requires the attacker to try to crack the password. When receiving an incoming password during authentication, take the hash of the password and compare it to the hash that you have saved.

Use randomly assigned salts for each separate hash that you generate. This increases the amount of computation that an attacker needs to conduct a brute-force attack, possibly limiting the effectiveness of the rainbow table method.

Phase: Architecture and Design

For front-end to back-end connections: Three solutions are possible, although none are complete.

The first suggestion involves the use of generated passwords which are changed automatically and must be entered at given time intervals by a system administrator. These passwords will be held in memory and only be valid for the time intervals.

Next, the passwords used should be limited at the back end to only performing actions valid for the front end, as opposed to having full access.

Finally, the messages sent should be tagged and checksummed with time sensitive values so as to prevent replay style attacks.

+ Weakness Ordinalities
(where the weakness exists independent of other weaknesses)
+ Relationships
NatureTypeIDNameView(s) this relationship pertains toView(s)
ChildOfCategoryCategory254Security Features
Seven Pernicious Kingdoms (primary)700
ChildOfCategoryCategory724OWASP Top Ten 2004 Category A3 - Broken Authentication and Session Management
Weaknesses in OWASP Top Ten (2004) (primary)711
ChildOfCategoryCategory7532009 Top 25 - Porous Defenses
Weaknesses in the 2009 CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Programming Errors (primary)750
ChildOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base798Use of Hard-coded Credentials
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ChildOfCategoryCategory861CERT Java Secure Coding Section 49 - Miscellaneous (MSC)
Weaknesses Addressed by the CERT Java Secure Coding Standard (primary)844
ChildOfCategoryCategory950SFP Secondary Cluster: Hardcoded Sensitive Data
Software Fault Pattern (SFP) Clusters (primary)888
PeerOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base257Storing Passwords in a Recoverable Format
Research Concepts1000
PeerOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base321Use of Hard-coded Cryptographic Key
Research Concepts1000
MemberOfViewView630Weaknesses Examined by SAMATE
Weaknesses Examined by SAMATE (primary)630
CanFollowWeakness BaseWeakness Base656Reliance on Security Through Obscurity
Research Concepts1000
+ Causal Nature


+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
7 Pernicious KingdomsPassword Management: Hard-Coded Password
CLASPUse of hard-coded password
OWASP Top Ten 2004A3CWE More SpecificBroken Authentication and Session Management
CERT Java Secure CodingMSC03-JNever hard code sensitive information
Software Fault PatternsSFP33Hardcoded sensitive data
+ White Box Definitions

Definition: A weakness where code path has:

1. end statement that passes a data item to a password function

2. value of the data item is a constant

+ References
[REF-17] Michael Howard, David LeBlanc and John Viega. "24 Deadly Sins of Software Security". "Sin 19: Use of Weak Password-Based Systems." Page 279. McGraw-Hill. 2010.
+ Maintenance Notes

This entry should probably be split into multiple variants: an inbound variant (as seen in the second demonstrative example) and an outbound variant (as seen in the first demonstrative example). These variants are likely to have different consequences, detectability, etc. See extended description.

+ Content History
Submission DateSubmitterOrganizationSource
7 Pernicious KingdomsExternally Mined
Modification DateModifierOrganizationSource
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigitalExternal
updated Time_of_Introduction
2008-08-01KDM AnalyticsExternal
added/updated white box definitions
Suggested OWASP Top Ten 2004 mapping
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Common_Consequences, Relationships, Other_Notes, Taxonomy_Mappings, Weakness_Ordinalities
2008-10-14CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Description, Potential_Mitigations
2008-11-13CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
Significant description modifications to emphasize different variants.
2008-11-24CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Maintenance_Notes, Other_Notes, Potential_Mitigations
2009-01-12CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Maintenance_Notes, Potential_Mitigations, Relationships
2009-03-10CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Potential_Mitigations
2009-07-17KDM AnalyticsExternal
Improved the White_Box_Definition
2009-07-27CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Demonstrative_Examples, Related_Attack_Patterns, White_Box_Definitions
2010-02-16CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Detection_Factors, Name, Potential_Mitigations, Relationships
2010-04-05CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Applicable_Platforms
2010-06-21CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Detection_Factors, Potential_Mitigations
2010-09-27CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships
2010-12-13CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Common_Consequences, Potential_Mitigations, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated References, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2012-10-30CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2010-02-16Hard-Coded Password
Page Last Updated: July 30, 2014