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CWE-939: Improper Authorization in Handler for Custom URL Scheme

Weakness ID: 939
Abstraction: Base
Status: Incomplete
Presentation Filter:
+ Description

Description Summary

The software uses a handler for a custom URL scheme, but it does not properly restrict which actors can invoke the handler using the scheme.

Extended Description

Mobile platforms and other architectures allow the use of custom URL schemes to facilitate communication between applications. In the case of iOS, this is the only method to do inter-application communication. The implementation is at the developer's discretion which may open security flaws in the application. An example could be potentially dangerous functionality such as modifying files through a custom URL scheme.

+ Applicable Platforms

Architectural Paradigms

Mobile Application

+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

This iOS application uses a custom URL scheme. The replaceFileText action in the URL scheme allows an external application to interface with the file incomingMessage.txt and replace the contents with the text field of the query string.

External Application

(Good Code)
Example Language: Objective-C 
NSString *stringURL = @"appscheme://replaceFileText?file=incomingMessage.txt&text=hello";
NSURL *url = [NSURL URLWithString:stringURL];
[[UIApplication sharedApplication] openURL:url];

Application URL Handler

(Bad Code)

- (BOOL)application:(UIApplication *)application handleOpenURL:(NSURL *)url {
if (!url) {
return NO;
NSString *action = [url host];
if([action isEqualToString: @"replaceFileText"]) {
NSDictionary *dict = [self parseQueryStringExampleFunction:[url query]];
//this function will write contents to a specified file
FileObject *objectFile = [self writeToFile:[dict objectForKey: @"file"] withText:[dict objectForKey: @"text"]];
return YES;

The handler has no restriction on who can use its functionality. The handler can be invoked using any method that invokes the URL handler such as the following malicious iframe embedded on a web page opened by Safari.

Example Language: HTML 
<iframe src="appscheme://replaceFileText?file=Bookmarks.dat&text=listOfMaliciousWebsites">

The attacker can host a malicious website containing the iframe and trick users into going to the site via a crafted phishing email. Since Safari automatically executes iframes, the user is not prompted when the handler executes the iframe code which automatically invokes the URL handler replacing the bookmarks file with a list of malicious websites. Since replaceFileText is a potentially dangerous action, an action that modifies data, there should be a sanity check before the writeToFile:withText: function.

Example 2

These Android and iOS applications intercept URL loading and perform special actions if a particular URL scheme is used, thus allowing the Javascript within the WebView to communicate with the application:

(Bad Code)
Example Language: Java 
public boolean shouldOverrideUrlLoading(WebView view, String url){
if (url.substring(0,14).equalsIgnoreCase("examplescheme:")){
writeDataToView(view, UserData);
return false;
return true;
(Bad Code)
Example Language: Objective-C 
-(BOOL) webView:(UIWebView *)exWebView shouldStartLoadWithRequest:(NSURLRequest *)exRequest navigationType:(UIWebViewNavigationType)exNavigationType
NSURL *URL = [exRequest URL];
if ([[URL scheme] isEqualToString:@"exampleScheme"])
NSString *functionString = [URL resourceSpecifier];
if ([functionString hasPrefix:@"specialFunction"])
// Make data available back in webview.
UIWebView *webView = [self writeDataToView:[URL query]];
return NO;
return YES;

A call into native code can then be initiated by passing parameters within the URL:

Example Language: Javascript 
window.location = examplescheme://method?parameter=value

Because the application does not check the source, a malicious website loaded within this WebView has the same access to the API as a trusted site.

+ Observed Examples
URL scheme has action replace which requires no user prompt and allows remote attackers to perform undesired actions.
URL scheme has action follow and favorite which allows remote attackers to force user to perform undesired actions.
+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Architecture and Design

Utilize a user prompt pop-up to authorize potentially harmful actions such as those modifying data or dealing with sensitive information.

When designing functionality of actions in the URL scheme, consider whether the action should be accessible to all mobile applications, or if a whitelist of applications to interface with is appropriate.

+ Relationships
NatureTypeIDNameView(s) this relationship pertains toView(s)
ChildOfWeakness ClassWeakness Class862Missing Authorization
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
+ References
Guillaume Ross. "Scheming for Privacy and Security". 2013-11-11. <>.
+ Content History
Submission DateSubmitterOrganizationSource
2014-01-14MITREInternal CWE Team
Modification DateModifierOrganizationSource
2017-01-19CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships

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Page Last Updated: January 18, 2017