Common Weakness Enumeration

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CWE-1191: On-Chip Debug and Test Interface With Improper Access Control

Weakness ID: 1191
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
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+ Description
The chip does not implement or does not correctly perform access control to check whether users are authorized to access internal registers and test modes through the physical debug/test interface.
+ Extended Description

A device's internal information may be accessed through a scan chain of interconnected internal registers, usually through a JTAG interface. The JTAG interface provides access to these registers in a serial fashion in the form of a scan chain for the purposes of debugging programs running on a device. Since almost all information contained within a device may be accessed over this interface, device manufacturers typically insert some form of authentication and authorization to prevent unintended use of this sensitive information. This mechanism is implemented in addition to on-chip protections that are already present.

If authorization, authentication, or some other form of access control is not implemented or not implemented correctly, a user may be able to bypass on-chip protection mechanisms through the debug interface.

Sometimes, designers choose not to expose the debug pins on the motherboard. Instead, they choose to hide these pins in the intermediate layers of the board. This is primarily done to work around the lack of debug authorization inside the chip. In such a scenario (without debug authorization), when the debug interface is exposed, chip internals are accessible to an attacker.

+ Relationships
Section HelpThis table 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)
ChildOfPillarPillar - a weakness that is the most abstract type of weakness and represents a theme for all class/base/variant weaknesses related to it. A Pillar is different from a Category as a Pillar is still technically a type of weakness that describes a mistake, while a Category represents a common characteristic used to group related things.284Improper Access Control
PeerOfClassClass - a weakness that is described in a very abstract fashion, typically independent of any specific language or technology. More specific than a Pillar Weakness, but more general than a Base Weakness. Class level weaknesses typically describe issues in terms of 1 or 2 of the following dimensions: behavior, property, and resource.1263Improper Physical Access Control
Section HelpThis table 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 "Hardware Design" (CWE-1194)
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1207Debug and Test Problems
PeerOfBaseBase - a weakness that is still mostly independent of a resource or technology, but with sufficient details to provide specific methods for detection and prevention. Base level weaknesses typically describe issues in terms of 2 or 3 of the following dimensions: behavior, property, technology, language, and resource.1299Missing Protection Mechanism for Alternate Hardware Interface
+ Modes Of Introduction
Section HelpThe different Modes of Introduction provide information about how and when this weakness may be introduced. The Phase identifies a point in the 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
Section HelpThis listing shows 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: Not Language-Specific (Undetermined Prevalence)

Operating Systems

Class: Not OS-Specific (Undetermined Prevalence)


Class: Not Architecture-Specific (Undetermined Prevalence)


Class: Not Technology-Specific (Undetermined Prevalence)

+ Common Consequences
Section HelpThis table 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 Application Data


Technical Impact: Read Memory


Technical Impact: Execute Unauthorized Code or Commands


Technical Impact: Modify Memory


Technical Impact: Modify Application Data

Access Control

Technical Impact: Bypass Protection Mechanism

+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

A home, WiFi-router device implements a login prompt which prevents an unauthorized user from issuing any commands on the device until appropriate credentials are provided. The credentials are protected on the device and are checked for strength against attack.

(bad code)
Example Language: Other 

If the JTAG interface on this device is not hidden by the manufacturer, the interface may be identified using tools such as JTAGulator. If it is hidden but not disabled, it can be exposed by physically wiring to the board.

By issuing a "halt" command before the OS starts, the unauthorized user pauses the watchdog timer and prevents the router from restarting (once the watchdog timer would have expired). Having paused the router, an unauthorized user is able to execute code and inspect and modify data in the device, even extracting all of the router's firmware. This allows the user to examine the router and potentially exploit it.

JTAG is useful to chip and device manufacturers during design, testing, and production and is included in nearly every product. Without proper authentication and authorization, the interface may allow tampering with a product.

(good code)
Example Language: Other 
In order to prevent exposing the debugging interface, manufacturers might try to obfuscate the JTAG interface or blow device internal fuses to disable the JTAG interface. Adding authentication and authorization to this interface makes use by unauthorized individuals much more difficult.
+ Observed Examples
chain: JTAG interface is not disabled (CWE-1191) during ROM code execution, introducing a race condition (CWE-362) to extract encryption keys
+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Architecture and Design

Strategy: Separation of Privilege

If feasible, the manufacturer should disable the JTAG interface or implement authentication and authorization for the JTAG interface. If authentication logic is added, it should be resistant to timing attacks. Security-sensitive data stored in registers, such as keys, etc. should be cleared when entering debug mode.

Effectiveness: High

+ Weakness Ordinalities
(where the weakness exists independent of other weaknesses)
+ Detection Methods

Dynamic Analysis with Manual Results Interpretation

Authentication and authorization of debug and test interfaces should be part of the architecture and design review process. Withholding of private register documentation from the debug and test interface public specification ("Security by obscurity") should not be considered as sufficient security.

Dynamic Analysis with Manual Results Interpretation

Dynamic tests should be done in the pre-silicon and post-silicon stages to verify that the debug and test interfaces are not open by default.


Tests that fuzz Debug and Test Interfaces should ensure that no access without appropriate authentication and authorization is possible.

Effectiveness: Moderate

+ Memberships
Section HelpThis 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.
MemberOfViewView - a subset of CWE entries that provides a way of examining CWE content. The two main view structures are Slices (flat lists) and Graphs (containing relationships between entries).1343Weaknesses in the 2021 CWE Most Important Hardware Weaknesses List
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1396Comprehensive Categorization: Access Control
+ Vulnerability Mapping Notes

Usage: Allowed

(this CWE ID could be used to map to real-world vulnerabilities)

Reason: Acceptable-Use


This CWE entry is at the Base level of abstraction, which is a preferred level of abstraction for mapping to the root causes of vulnerabilities.


Carefully read both the name and description to ensure that this mapping is an appropriate fit. Do not try to 'force' a mapping to a lower-level Base/Variant simply to comply with this preferred level of abstraction.
+ Notes


CWE-1191 and CWE-1244 both involve physical debug access, but the weaknesses are different. CWE-1191 is effectively about missing authorization for a debug interface, i.e. JTAG. CWE-1244 is about providing internal assets with the wrong debug access level, exposing the asset to untrusted debug agents.
+ References
[REF-1037] Kurt Rosenfeld and Ramesh Karri. "Attacks and Defenses for JTAG". 2010-02. <>.
[REF-1043] Gopal Vishwakarma and Wonjun Lee. "Exploiting JTAG and Its Mitigation in IOT: A Survey". 2018-12-03. <>. URL validated: 2023-04-07.
[REF-1084] Gopal Vishwakarma and Wonjun Lee. "JTAG Explained (finally!): Why "IoT", Software Security Engineers, and Manufacturers Should Care". <>. URL validated: 2023-04-07.
[REF-1085] Bob Molyneaux, Mark McDermott and Anil Sabbavarapu. "Design for Testability & Design for Debug". <>.
+ Content History
+ Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
(CWE 4.0, 2020-02-24)
Arun Kanuparthi, Hareesh Khattri, Parbati Kumar Manna, Narasimha Kumar V MangipudiIntel Corporation
+ Contributions
Contribution DateContributorOrganization
2021-10-18Parbati K. MannaIntel Corporation
provided detection methods
2021-10-20Narasimha Kumar V MangipudiLattice Semiconductor
reviewed content changes
2021-10-22Hareesh KhattriIntel Corporation
clarified differences between CWE-1191 and CWE-1244
2021-10-27Arun KanuparthiIntel Corporation
suggested additional detail in extended description
+ Modifications
Modification DateModifierOrganization
2020-06-25CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Name, References, Relationships
2020-08-20CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Name, Potential_Mitigations, Related_Attack_Patterns, Relationships
2021-03-15CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Maintenance_Notes
2021-10-28CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Detection_Factors, Maintenance_Notes, Name, Potential_Mitigations, Relationship_Notes, Relationships, Weakness_Ordinalities
2022-04-28CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Related_Attack_Patterns
2022-10-13CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Description, Related_Attack_Patterns
2023-04-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated References, Relationships
2023-06-29CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Mapping_Notes
+ Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2020-02-26Exposed Chip Debug Interface With Insufficient Access Control
2020-08-20Exposed Chip Debug and or Test Interface With Insufficient Access Control
2021-10-28Exposed Chip Debug and Test Interface With Insufficient or Missing Authorization
Page Last Updated: June 29, 2023