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CWE-377: Insecure Temporary File

Weakness ID: 377
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
Status: Incomplete
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
Creating and using insecure temporary files can leave application and system data vulnerable to attack.
+ 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 "Development Concepts" (CWE-699)
MemberOfCategoryCategory376Temporary File 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 software 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.


(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.


Technical Impact: Read Files or Directories; Modify Files or Directories

+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

The following code uses a temporary file for storing intermediate data gathered from the network before it is processed.

Example Language:
if (tmpnam_r(filename)) {

FILE* tmp = fopen(filename,"wb+");
while((recv(sock,recvbuf,DATA_SIZE, 0) > 0)&(amt!=0)) amt = fwrite(recvbuf,1,DATA_SIZE,tmp);


This otherwise unremarkable code is vulnerable to a number of different attacks because it relies on an insecure method for creating temporary files. The vulnerabilities introduced by this function and others are described in the following sections. The most egregious security problems related to temporary file creation have occurred on Unix-based operating systems, but Windows applications have parallel risks. This section includes a discussion of temporary file creation on both Unix and Windows systems. Methods and behaviors can vary between systems, but the fundamental risks introduced by each are reasonably constant.

+ 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


Applications require temporary files so frequently that many different mechanisms exist for creating them in the C Library and Windows(R) API. Most of these functions are vulnerable to various forms of attacks.

The functions designed to aid in the creation of temporary files can be broken into two groups based whether they simply provide a filename or actually open a new file. - Group 1: "Unique" Filenames: The first group of C Library and WinAPI functions designed to help with the process of creating temporary files do so by generating a unique file name for a new temporary file, which the program is then supposed to open. This group includes C Library functions like tmpnam(), tempnam(), mktemp() and their C++ equivalents prefaced with an _ (underscore) as well as the GetTempFileName() function from the Windows API. This group of functions suffers from an underlying race condition on the filename chosen. Although the functions guarantee that the filename is unique at the time it is selected, there is no mechanism to prevent another process or an attacker from creating a file with the same name after it is selected but before the application attempts to open the file. Beyond the risk of a legitimate collision caused by another call to the same function, there is a high probability that an attacker will be able to create a malicious collision because the filenames generated by these functions are not sufficiently randomized to make them difficult to guess. If a file with the selected name is created, then depending on how the file is opened the existing contents or access permissions of the file may remain intact. If the existing contents of the file are malicious in nature, an attacker may be able to inject dangerous data into the application when it reads data back from the temporary file. If an attacker pre-creates the file with relaxed access permissions, then data stored in the temporary file by the application may be accessed, modified or corrupted by an attacker. On Unix based systems an even more insidious attack is possible if the attacker pre-creates the file as a link to another important file. Then, if the application truncates or writes data to the file, it may unwittingly perform damaging operations for the attacker. This is an especially serious threat if the program operates with elevated permissions. Finally, in the best case the file will be opened with the a call to open() using the O_CREAT and O_EXCL flags or to CreateFile() using the CREATE_NEW attribute, which will fail if the file already exists and therefore prevent the types of attacks described above. However, if an attacker is able to accurately predict a sequence of temporary file names, then the application may be prevented from opening necessary temporary storage causing a denial of service (DoS) attack. This type of attack would not be difficult to mount given the small amount of randomness used in the selection of the filenames generated by these functions. - Group 2: "Unique" Files: The second group of C Library functions attempts to resolve some of the security problems related to temporary files by not only generating a unique file name, but also opening the file. This group includes C Library functions like tmpfile() and its C++ equivalents prefaced with an _ (underscore), as well as the slightly better-behaved C Library function mkstemp(). The tmpfile() style functions construct a unique filename and open it in the same way that fopen() would if passed the flags "wb+", that is, as a binary file in read/write mode. If the file already exists, tmpfile() will truncate it to size zero, possibly in an attempt to assuage the security concerns mentioned earlier regarding the race condition that exists between the selection of a supposedly unique filename and the subsequent opening of the selected file. However, this behavior clearly does not solve the function's security problems. First, an attacker can pre-create the file with relaxed access-permissions that will likely be retained by the file opened by tmpfile(). Furthermore, on Unix based systems if the attacker pre-creates the file as a link to another important file, the application may use its possibly elevated permissions to truncate that file, thereby doing damage on behalf of the attacker. Finally, if tmpfile() does create a new file, the access permissions applied to that file will vary from one operating system to another, which can leave application data vulnerable even if an attacker is unable to predict the filename to be used in advance. Finally, mkstemp() is a reasonably safe way create temporary files. It will attempt to create and open a unique file based on a filename template provided by the user combined with a series of randomly generated characters. If it is unable to create such a file, it will fail and return -1. On modern systems the file is opened using mode 0600, which means the file will be secure from tampering unless the user explicitly changes its access permissions. However, mkstemp() still suffers from the use of predictable file names and can leave an application vulnerable to denial of service attacks if an attacker causes mkstemp() to fail by predicting and pre-creating the filenames to be used.

+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
7 Pernicious KingdomsInsecure Temporary File
CERT C Secure CodingCON33-CImpreciseAvoid race conditions when using library functions
CERT Java Secure CodingFIO00-JDo not operate on files in shared directories
+ References
[REF-112] Michael Howard and David LeBlanc. "Writing Secure Code". Chapter 23, "Creating Temporary Files Securely" Page 682. 2nd Edition. Microsoft. 2002.
[REF-62] Mark Dowd, John McDonald and Justin Schuh. "The Art of Software Security Assessment". Chapter 9, "Temporary Files", Page 538.. 1st Edition. Addison Wesley. 2006.
[REF-62] Mark Dowd, John McDonald and Justin Schuh. "The Art of Software Security Assessment". Chapter 11, "File Squatting", Page 662.. 1st Edition. Addison Wesley. 2006.
+ Content History
Submission DateSubmitterOrganizationSource
7 Pernicious Kingdoms
Modification DateModifierOrganizationSource
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigital
updated Time_of_Introduction
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Other_Notes, Taxonomy_Mappings
2009-03-10CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2009-05-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2010-02-16CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated References
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated References, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2017-11-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, References, Taxonomy_Mappings

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Page Last Updated: November 14, 2017