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CWE-656: Reliance on Security Through Obscurity

Weakness ID: 656
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
Status: Draft
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The software uses a protection mechanism whose strength depends heavily on its obscurity, such that knowledge of its algorithms or key data is sufficient to defeat the mechanism.
+ Extended Description
This reliance on "security through obscurity" can produce resultant weaknesses if an attacker is able to reverse engineer the inner workings of the mechanism. Note that obscurity can be one small part of defense in depth, since it can create more work for an attacker; however, it is a significant risk if used as the primary means of protection.
+ Alternate Terms
Never Assuming your secrets are safe
+ 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 "Architectural Concepts" (CWE-1008)
MemberOfCategoryCategory1011Authorize Actors
+ Relevant to the view "Development Concepts" (CWE-699)
MemberOfCategoryCategory2547PK - Security Features
ChildOfClassClass657Violation of Secure Design Principles
+ 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
ImplementationREALIZATION: This weakness is caused during implementation of an architectural security tactic.
+ 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)

+ 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: Other

The security mechanism can be bypassed easily.
+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

The design of TCP relies on the secrecy of Initial Sequence Numbers (ISNs), as originally covered in CVE-1999-0077. If ISNs can be guessed (due to predictability, CWE-330) or sniffed (due to lack of encryption, CWE-311), then an attacker can hijack or spoof connections. Many TCP implementations have had variations of this problem over the years, including CVE-2004-0641, CVE-2002-1463, CVE-2001-0751, CVE-2001-0328, CVE-2001-0288, CVE-2001-0163, CVE-2001-0162, CVE-2000-0916, and CVE-2000-0328.

Example 1 References:
[REF-542] Jon Postel, Editor. "RFC: 793, TRANSMISSION CONTROL PROTOCOL". Information Sciences Institute. 1981-09. <>.
+ Observed Examples
Reliance on hidden form fields in a web application. Many web application vulnerabilities exist because the developer did not consider that "hidden" form fields can be processed using a modified client.
Hard-coded cryptographic key stored in executable program.
Hard-coded cryptographic key stored in executable program.
Hard-coded hashed values for username and password contained in client-side script, allowing brute-force offline attacks.
+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Architecture and Design

Always consider whether knowledge of your code or design is sufficient to break it. Reverse engineering is a highly successful discipline, and financially feasible for motivated adversaries. Black-box techniques are established for binary analysis of executables that use obfuscation, runtime analysis of proprietary protocols, inferring file formats, and others.

Phase: Architecture and Design

When available, use publicly-vetted algorithms and procedures, as these are more likely to undergo more extensive security analysis and testing. This is especially the case with encryption and authentication.
+ Weakness Ordinalities
(where the weakness exists independent of other weaknesses)
+ 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.
MemberOfCategoryCategory975SFP Secondary Cluster: Architecture
+ Notes


Note that there is a close relationship between this weakness and CWE-603 (Use of Client-Side Authentication). If developers do not believe that a user can reverse engineer a client, then they are more likely to choose client-side authentication in the belief that it is safe.
+ References
[REF-196] Jerome H. Saltzer and Michael D. Schroeder. "The Protection of Information in Computer Systems". Proceedings of the IEEE 63. 1975-09. <>.
[REF-544] Sean Barnum and Michael Gegick. "Never Assuming that Your Secrets Are Safe". 2005-09-14. <>.
+ Content History
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
2008-01-18Pascal MeunierPurdue University
Modification DateModifierOrganization
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigital
updated Time_of_Introduction
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Description, Relationships, Other_Notes, Weakness_Ordinalities
2009-01-12CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Description, Name
2010-04-05CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Related_Attack_Patterns
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2012-10-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Potential_Mitigations
2014-06-23CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Other_Notes, Relationship_Notes
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2017-11-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, Causal_Nature, Modes_of_Introduction, Relationships
Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2009-01-12Design Principle Violation: Reliance on Security through Obscurity

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Page Last Updated: January 18, 2018