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CWE-1291: Public Key Re-Use for Signing both Debug and Production Code

Weakness ID: 1291
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
Status: Draft
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The same public key is used for signing both debug and production code.
+ Extended Description

A common usage of public-key cryptography is to verify the integrity and authenticity of another entity (for example a firmware binary). If a company wants to ensure that its firmware runs only on its own hardware, before the firmware runs, an encrypted hash of the firmware image will be decrypted with the public key and then verified against the now-computed hash of the firmware image. This means that the public key forms the root of trust, which necessitates that the public key itself must be protected and used properly.

During the development phase, debug firmware enables many hardware debug hooks, debug modes, and debug messages for testing. Those debug facilities provide significant, additional views about the firmware’s capability and, in some cases, additional capability into the chip or SoC. If compromised, these capabilities could be exploited by an attacker to take full control of the system.

Once the product exits the manufacturing stage and enters production, it is good practice to use a different public key. Debug firmware images are known to leak. With the debug key being reused as the production key, the debug image will also work on the production image. Thus, it will open all the internal, debug capabilities to the attacker.

If a different public key is used for the production image, even if the attacker gains access to the debug firmware image, they will not be able to run it on a production machine. Thus, damage will be limited to the intellectual property leakage resulting from the debug image.

+ 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)
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.693Protection Mechanism Failure
PeerOfVariantVariant - a weakness that is linked to a certain type of product, typically involving a specific language or technology. More specific than a Base weakness. Variant level weaknesses typically describe issues in terms of 3 to 5 of the following dimensions: behavior, property, technology, language, and resource.321Use of Hard-coded Cryptographic Key
+ 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
+ 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 life cycle at which introduction may occur, while the Note provides a typical scenario related to introduction during the given phase.

+ 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)

Operating Systems

Class: OS-Independent (Undetermined Prevalence)


Class: Architecture-Independent (Undetermined Prevalence)


Class: Technology-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.

Access Control

Technical Impact: Read Memory; Modify Memory; Execute Unauthorized Code or Commands; Gain Privileges or Assume Identity; Varies by Context

+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

This example illustrates the danger of using the same public key for debug and production.

(bad code)
Example Language: Other 
Suppose the product design requires frugality of silicon real estate. Assume that originally the architecture allows just enough storage for two 2048-bit RSA keys in the fuse: one to be used for debug and the other for production. However, in the meantime, a business decision is taken to make the security future-proof beyond 2030, which means the architecture needs to use the NIST-recommended 3072-bit keys instead of the originally-planned 2048-bit keys. This means that, at most, one key can be fully stored in the fuses, not two. So the product design team decides to use the same public key for debug and production.
Example Language: Other 
Increase the storage so that two different keys of the required size can be stored.
+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Implementation

Use different keys for Production and Debug
+ Detection Methods

Architecture or Design Review

Compare the debug key with the production key to make sure that they are not the same.

Effectiveness: High

Dynamic Analysis with Manual Results Interpretation

Compare the debug key with the production key to make sure that they are not the same.

Effectiveness: High

+ Content History
+ Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
2020-05-26Parbati Kumar Manna, Hareesh Khattri, Arun KanuparthiIntel Corporation
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Page Last Updated: March 15, 2021