Common Weakness Enumeration

A Community-Developed List of Software Weakness Types

CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Software Errors
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CWE-362: Concurrent Execution using Shared Resource with Improper Synchronization ('Race Condition')

Weakness ID: 362
Abstraction: Class
Status: Draft
Presentation Filter:
+ Description

Description Summary

The program contains a code sequence that can run concurrently with other code, and the code sequence requires temporary, exclusive access to a shared resource, but a timing window exists in which the shared resource can be modified by another code sequence that is operating concurrently.

Extended Description

This can have security implications when the expected synchronization is in security-critical code, such as recording whether a user is authenticated or modifying important state information that should not be influenced by an outsider.

A race condition occurs within concurrent environments, and is effectively a property of a code sequence. Depending on the context, a code sequence may be in the form of a function call, a small number of instructions, a series of program invocations, etc.

A race condition violates these properties, which are closely related:

  • Exclusivity - the code sequence is given exclusive access to the shared resource, i.e., no other code sequence can modify properties of the shared resource before the original sequence has completed execution.

  • Atomicity - the code sequence is behaviorally atomic, i.e., no other thread or process can concurrently execute the same sequence of instructions (or a subset) against the same resource.

A race condition exists when an "interfering code sequence" can still access the shared resource, violating exclusivity. Programmers may assume that certain code sequences execute too quickly to be affected by an interfering code sequence; when they are not, this violates atomicity. For example, the single "x++" statement may appear atomic at the code layer, but it is actually non-atomic at the instruction layer, since it involves a read (the original value of x), followed by a computation (x+1), followed by a write (save the result to x).

The interfering code sequence could be "trusted" or "untrusted." A trusted interfering code sequence occurs within the program; it cannot be modified by the attacker, and it can only be invoked indirectly. An untrusted interfering code sequence can be authored directly by the attacker, and typically it is external to the vulnerable program.

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


C: (Sometimes)

C++: (Sometimes)

Java: (Sometimes)


Architectural Paradigms

Concurrent Systems Operating on Shared Resources: (Often)

+ Common Consequences

Technical Impact: DoS: resource consumption (CPU); DoS: resource consumption (memory); DoS: resource consumption (other)

When a race condition makes it possible to bypass a resource cleanup routine or trigger multiple initialization routines, it may lead to resource exhaustion (CWE-400).


Technical Impact: DoS: crash / exit / restart; DoS: instability

When a race condition allows multiple control flows to access a resource simultaneously, it might lead the program(s) into unexpected states, possibly resulting in a crash.


Technical Impact: Read files or directories; Read application data

When a race condition is combined with predictable resource names and loose permissions, it may be possible for an attacker to overwrite or access confidential data (CWE-59).

+ Likelihood of Exploit


+ Detection Methods

Black Box

Black box methods may be able to identify evidence of race conditions via methods such as multiple simultaneous connections, which may cause the software to become instable or crash. However, race conditions with very narrow timing windows would not be detectable.

White Box

Common idioms are detectable in white box analysis, such as time-of-check-time-of-use (TOCTOU) file operations (CWE-367), or double-checked locking (CWE-609).

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.

Race conditions may be detected with a stress-test by calling the software simultaneously from a large number of threads or processes, and look for evidence of any unexpected behavior.

Insert breakpoints or delays in between relevant code statements to artificially expand the race window so that it will be easier to detect.

Effectiveness: Moderate

Automated Static Analysis - Binary / Bytecode

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

Highly cost effective:

  • Bytecode Weakness Analysis - including disassembler + source code weakness analysis

Cost effective for partial coverage:

  • Binary Weakness Analysis - including disassembler + source code weakness analysis

Effectiveness: SOAR High

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:

Highly cost effective:

  • Framework-based Fuzzer

Cost effective for partial coverage:

  • Fuzz Tester

  • Monitored Virtual Environment - run potentially malicious code in sandbox / wrapper / virtual machine, see if it does anything suspicious

Effectiveness: SOAR High

Manual Static Analysis - Source Code

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

Highly cost effective:

  • Manual Source Code Review (not inspections)

Cost effective for partial coverage:

  • Focused Manual Spotcheck - Focused manual analysis of source

Effectiveness: SOAR High

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

Effectiveness: SOAR High

Architecture / 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: SOAR High

+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

This code could be used in an e-commerce application that supports transfers between accounts. It takes the total amount of the transfer, sends it to the new account, and deducts the amount from the original account.

(Bad Code)
Example Language: Perl 
$transfer_amount = GetTransferAmount();
$balance = GetBalanceFromDatabase();

if ($transfer_amount < 0) {
FatalError("Bad Transfer Amount");
$newbalance = $balance - $transfer_amount;
if (($balance - $transfer_amount) < 0) {
FatalError("Insufficient Funds");
NotifyUser("Transfer of $transfer_amount succeeded.");
NotifyUser("New balance: $newbalance");

A race condition could occur between the calls to GetBalanceFromDatabase() and SendNewBalanceToDatabase().

Suppose the balance is initially 100.00. An attack could be constructed as follows:

Example Language: PseudoCode 
The attacker makes two simultaneous calls of the program, CALLER-1 and CALLER-2. Both callers are for the same user account.
CALLER-1 (the attacker) is associated with PROGRAM-1 (the instance that handles CALLER-1). CALLER-2 is associated with PROGRAM-2.
CALLER-1 makes a transfer request of 80.00.
PROGRAM-1 calls GetBalanceFromDatabase and sets $balance to 100.00
PROGRAM-1 calculates $newbalance as 20.00, then calls SendNewBalanceToDatabase().
Due to high server load, the PROGRAM-1 call to SendNewBalanceToDatabase() encounters a delay.
CALLER-2 makes a transfer request of 1.00.
PROGRAM-2 calls GetBalanceFromDatabase() and sets $balance to 100.00. This happens because the previous PROGRAM-1 request was not processed yet.
PROGRAM-2 determines the new balance as 99.00.
After the initial delay, PROGRAM-1 commits its balance to the database, setting it to 20.00.
PROGRAM-2 sends a request to update the database, setting the balance to 99.00

At this stage, the attacker should have a balance of 19.00 (due to 81.00 worth of transfers), but the balance is 99.00, as recorded in the database.

To prevent this weakness, the programmer has several options, including using a lock to prevent multiple simultaneous requests to the web application, or using a synchronization mechanism that includes all the code between GetBalanceFromDatabase() and SendNewBalanceToDatabase().

Example 2

The following function attempts to acquire a lock in order to perform operations on a shared resource.

(Bad Code)
Example Language:
void f(pthread_mutex_t *mutex) {

/* access shared resource */


However, the code does not check the value returned by pthread_mutex_lock() for errors. If pthread_mutex_lock() cannot acquire the mutex for any reason, the function may introduce a race condition into the program and result in undefined behavior.

In order to avoid data races, correctly written programs must check the result of thread synchronization functions and appropriately handle all errors, either by attempting to recover from them or reporting it to higher levels.

(Good Code)
int f(pthread_mutex_t *mutex) {
int result;

result = pthread_mutex_lock(mutex);
if (0 != result)
return result;

/* access shared resource */

return pthread_mutex_unlock(mutex);
+ Observed Examples
Race condition leading to a crash by calling a hook removal procedure while other activities are occurring at the same time.
chain: time-of-check time-of-use (TOCTOU) race condition in program allows bypass of protection mechanism that was designed to prevent symlink attacks.
chain: time-of-check time-of-use (TOCTOU) race condition in program allows bypass of protection mechanism that was designed to prevent symlink attacks.
Unsynchronized caching operation enables a race condition that causes messages to be sent to a deallocated object.
Race condition during initialization triggers a buffer overflow.
Daemon crash by quickly performing operations and undoing them, which eventually leads to an operation that does not acquire a lock.
chain: race condition triggers NULL pointer dereference
Race condition in library function could cause data to be sent to the wrong process.
Race condition in file parser leads to heap corruption.
chain: race condition allows attacker to access an object while it is still being initialized, causing software to access uninitialized memory.
chain: race condition for an argument value, possibly resulting in NULL dereference
chain: race condition might allow resource to be released before operating on it, leading to NULL dereference
+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Architecture and Design

In languages that support it, use synchronization primitives. Only wrap these around critical code to minimize the impact on performance.

Phase: Architecture and Design

Use thread-safe capabilities such as the data access abstraction in Spring.

Phase: Architecture and Design

Minimize the usage of shared resources in order to remove as much complexity as possible from the control flow and to reduce the likelihood of unexpected conditions occurring.

Additionally, this will minimize the amount of synchronization necessary and may even help to reduce the likelihood of a denial of service where an attacker may be able to repeatedly trigger a critical section (CWE-400).

Phase: Implementation

When using multithreading and operating on shared variables, only use thread-safe functions.

Phase: Implementation

Use atomic operations on shared variables. Be wary of innocent-looking constructs such as "x++". This may appear atomic at the code layer, but it is actually non-atomic at the instruction layer, since it involves a read, followed by a computation, followed by a write.

Phase: Implementation

Use a mutex if available, but be sure to avoid related weaknesses such as CWE-412.

Phase: Implementation

Avoid double-checked locking (CWE-609) and other implementation errors that arise when trying to avoid the overhead of synchronization.

Phase: Implementation

Disable interrupts or signals over critical parts of the code, but also make sure that the code does not go into a large or infinite loop.

Phase: Implementation

Use the volatile type modifier for critical variables to avoid unexpected compiler optimization or reordering. This does not necessarily solve the synchronization problem, but it can help.

Phases: Architecture and Design; Operation

Strategy: Environment Hardening

Run your code using the lowest privileges that are required to accomplish the necessary tasks [R.362.11]. 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.

+ Relationships
NatureTypeIDNameView(s) this relationship pertains toView(s)
ChildOfCategoryCategory361Time and State
Development Concepts (primary)699
Weaknesses for Simplified Mapping of Published Vulnerabilities (primary)1003
ChildOfWeakness ClassWeakness Class691Insufficient Control Flow Management
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ChildOfCategoryCategory743CERT C Secure Coding Section 09 - Input Output (FIO)
Weaknesses Addressed by the CERT C Secure Coding Standard (primary)734
ChildOfCategoryCategory7512009 Top 25 - Insecure Interaction Between Components
Weaknesses in the 2009 CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Programming Errors (primary)750
ChildOfCategoryCategory8012010 Top 25 - Insecure Interaction Between Components
Weaknesses in the 2010 CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Programming Errors (primary)800
ChildOfCategoryCategory852CERT Java Secure Coding Section 07 - Visibility and Atomicity (VNA)
Weaknesses Addressed by the CERT Java Secure Coding Standard (primary)844
ChildOfCategoryCategory8672011 Top 25 - Weaknesses On the Cusp
Weaknesses in the 2011 CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Software Errors (primary)900
ChildOfCategoryCategory877CERT C++ Secure Coding Section 09 - Input Output (FIO)
Weaknesses Addressed by the CERT C++ Secure Coding Standard868
ChildOfCategoryCategory882CERT C++ Secure Coding Section 14 - Concurrency (CON)
Weaknesses Addressed by the CERT C++ Secure Coding Standard (primary)868
ChildOfCategoryCategory988SFP Secondary Cluster: Race Condition Window
Software Fault Pattern (SFP) Clusters (primary)888
RequiredByCompound Element: CompositeCompound Element: Composite61UNIX Symbolic Link (Symlink) Following
Research Concepts1000
RequiredByCompound Element: CompositeCompound Element: Composite689Permission Race Condition During Resource Copy
Research Concepts1000
ParentOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base364Signal Handler Race Condition
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ParentOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base366Race Condition within a Thread
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ParentOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base367Time-of-check Time-of-use (TOCTOU) Race Condition
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ParentOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base368Context Switching Race Condition
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ParentOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base421Race Condition During Access to Alternate Channel
Development Concepts699
Research Concepts1000
MemberOfViewView635Weaknesses Used by NVD
Weaknesses Used by NVD (primary)635
CanFollowWeakness BaseWeakness Base662Improper Synchronization
Development Concepts699
Research Concepts1000
CanAlsoBeCategoryCategory557Concurrency Issues
Research Concepts1000
+ Research Gaps

Race conditions in web applications are under-studied and probably under-reported. However, in 2008 there has been growing interest in this area.

Much of the focus of race condition research has been in Time-of-check Time-of-use (TOCTOU) variants (CWE-367), but many race conditions are related to synchronization problems that do not necessarily require a time-of-check.

+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
PLOVERRace Conditions
CERT C Secure CodingFIO31-CDo not simultaneously open the same file multiple times
CERT Java Secure CodingVNA03-JDo not assume that a group of calls to independently atomic methods is atomic
CERT C++ Secure CodingFIO31-CPPDo not simultaneously open the same file multiple times
CERT C++ Secure CodingCON02-CPPUse lock classes for mutex management
+ References
[R.362.1] [REF-17] Michael Howard, David LeBlanc and John Viega. "24 Deadly Sins of Software Security". "Sin 13: Race Conditions." Page 205. McGraw-Hill. 2010.
[R.362.2] Andrei Alexandrescu. "volatile - Multithreaded Programmer's Best Friend". Dr. Dobb's. 2008-02-01. <>.
[R.362.3] Steven Devijver. "Thread-safe webapps using Spring". <>.
[R.362.4] David Wheeler. "Prevent race conditions". 2007-10-04. <>.
[R.362.5] Matt Bishop. "Race Conditions, Files, and Security Flaws; or the Tortoise and the Hare Redux". September 1995. <>.
[R.362.6] David Wheeler. "Secure Programming for Linux and Unix HOWTO". 2003-03-03. <>.
[R.362.7] Blake Watts. "Discovering and Exploiting Named Pipe Security Flaws for Fun and Profit". April 2002. <>.
[R.362.8] Roberto Paleari, Davide Marrone, Danilo Bruschi and Mattia Monga. "On Race Vulnerabilities in Web Applications". <>.
[R.362.9] "Avoiding Race Conditions and Insecure File Operations". Apple Developer Connection. <>.
[R.362.10] Johannes Ullrich. "Top 25 Series - Rank 25 - Race Conditions". SANS Software Security Institute. 2010-03-26. <>.
[R.362.11] [REF-31] Sean Barnum and Michael Gegick. "Least Privilege". 2005-09-14. <>.
+ Maintenance Notes

The relationship between race conditions and synchronization problems (CWE-662) needs to be further developed. They are not necessarily two perspectives of the same core concept, since synchronization is only one technique for avoiding race conditions, and synchronization can be used for other purposes besides race condition prevention.

+ Content History
Submission DateSubmitterOrganizationSource
PLOVERExternally Mined
Contribution DateContributorOrganizationSource
2010-04-30Martin SeborCisco Systems, Inc. Content
Provided Demonstrative Example
Modification DateModifierOrganizationSource
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigitalExternal
updated Time_of_Introduction
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2008-10-14CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships
2008-11-24CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2009-01-12CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Applicable_Platforms, Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Likelihood_of_Exploit, Maintenance_Notes, Observed_Examples, Potential_Mitigations, References, Relationships, Research_Gaps
2009-03-10CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Demonstrative_Examples, Potential_Mitigations
2009-05-27CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships
2010-02-16CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Detection_Factors, References, Relationships
2010-06-21CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Detection_Factors, Potential_Mitigations, References
2010-09-27CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Observed_Examples, Potential_Mitigations, Relationships
2010-12-13CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Applicable_Platforms, Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Name, Potential_Mitigations, Relationships
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Common_Consequences, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2011-06-27CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships
2011-09-13CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Potential_Mitigations, References, Relationships
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Detection_Factors, Relationships
2015-12-07CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships
Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2008-04-11Race Conditions
2010-12-13Race Condition

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Page Last Updated: January 18, 2017