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Common Weakness Enumeration

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ID

CWE-203: Observable Discrepancy

Weakness ID: 203
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
Status: Incomplete
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The product behaves differently or sends different responses under different circumstances in a way that is observable to an unauthorized actor, which exposes security-relevant information about the state of the product, such as whether a particular operation was successful or not.
+ Extended Description
Discrepancies can take many forms, and variations may be detectable in timing, control flow, communications such as replies or requests, or general behavior. These discrepancies can reveal information about the product's operation or internal state to an unauthorized actor. In some cases, discrepancies can be used by attackers to form a side channel.
+ Alternate Terms
Side Channel Attack:
Observable Discrepancies are at the root of side channel attacks.
+ 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)
NatureTypeIDName
ChildOfClassClass - 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.200Exposure of Sensitive Information to an Unauthorized Actor
ParentOfBaseBase - 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.204Observable Response Discrepancy
ParentOfBaseBase - 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.205Observable Behavioral Discrepancy
ParentOfBaseBase - 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.208Observable Timing Discrepancy
ParentOfBaseBase - 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.1300Improper Protection Against Physical Side Channels
ParentOfBaseBase - 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.1303Non-Transparent Sharing of Microarchitectural Resources
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)
NatureTypeIDName
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1205Security Primitives and Cryptography Issues
ParentOfBaseBase - 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.1300Improper Protection Against Physical Side Channels
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 "Weaknesses for Simplified Mapping of Published Vulnerabilities" (CWE-1003)
NatureTypeIDName
ChildOfClassClass - 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.200Exposure of Sensitive Information to an Unauthorized Actor
+ 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.
PhaseNote
Architecture and Design
Implementation
+ 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.

Languages

Class: Language-Independent (Undetermined Prevalence)

Technologies

Class: Technology-Independent (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.
ScopeImpactLikelihood
Confidentiality
Access Control

Technical Impact: Read Application Data; Bypass Protection Mechanism

An attacker can gain access to sensitive information about the system, including authentication information that may allow an attacker to gain access to the system.
Confidentiality

Technical Impact: Read Application Data

When cryptographic primitives are vulnerable to side-channel-attacks, this could be used to reveal unencrypted plaintext in the worst case.
+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

The following code checks validity of the supplied username and password and notifies the user of a successful or failed login.

(bad code)
Example Language: Perl 
my $username=param('username');
my $password=param('password');

if (IsValidUsername($username) == 1)
{
if (IsValidPassword($username, $password) == 1)
{
print "Login Successful";
}
else
{
print "Login Failed - incorrect password";
}
}
else
{
print "Login Failed - unknown username";
}

In the above code, there are different messages for when an incorrect username is supplied, versus when the username is correct but the password is wrong. This difference enables a potential attacker to understand the state of the login function, and could allow an attacker to discover a valid username by trying different values until the incorrect password message is returned. In essence, this makes it easier for an attacker to obtain half of the necessary authentication credentials.

While this type of information may be helpful to a user, it is also useful to a potential attacker. In the above example, the message for both failed cases should be the same, such as:

(result)
 
"Login Failed - incorrect username or password"

Example 2

Non-uniform processing time causes timing channel.

(bad code)
 
Suppose an algorithm for implementing an encryption routine works fine per se, but the time taken to output the result of the encryption routine depends on a relationship between the input plaintext and the key (e.g., suppose, if the plaintext is similar to the key, it would run very fast).

In the example above, an attacker may vary the inputs, then observe differences between processing times (since different plaintexts take different time). This could be used to infer information about the key.

(good code)
 
Artificial delays may be added to ensured all calculations take equal time to execute.

Example 3

Suppose memory access patterns for an encryption routine are dependent on the secret key.

An attacker can recover the key by knowing if specific memory locations have been accessed or not. The value stored at those memory locations is irrelevant. The encryption routine's memory accesses will affect the state of the processor cache. If cache resources are shared across contexts, after the encryption routine completes, an attacker in different execution context can discover which memory locations the routine accessed by measuring the time it takes for their own memory accesses to complete.

+ Observed Examples
ReferenceDescription
This, and others, use ".." attacks and monitor error responses, so there is overlap with directory traversal.
Enumeration of valid usernames based on inconsistent responses
Account number enumeration via inconsistent responses.
User enumeration via discrepancies in error messages.
User enumeration via discrepancies in error messages.
Bulletin Board displays different error messages when a user exists or not, which makes it easier for remote attackers to identify valid users and conduct a brute force password guessing attack.
Operating System, when direct remote login is disabled, displays a different message if the password is correct, which allows remote attackers to guess the password via brute force methods.
Product allows remote attackers to determine if a port is being filtered because the response packet TTL is different than the default TTL.
Product sets a different TTL when a port is being filtered than when it is not being filtered, which allows remote attackers to identify filtered ports by comparing TTLs.
Product modifies TCP/IP stack and ICMP error messages in unusual ways that show the product is in use.
Behavioral infoleak by responding to SYN-FIN packets.
Product may generate different responses than specified by the administrator, possibly leading to an information leak.
Version control system allows remote attackers to determine the existence of arbitrary files and directories via the -X command for an alternate history file, which causes different error messages to be returned.
FTP server generates an error message if the user name does not exist instead of prompting for a password, which allows remote attackers to determine valid usernames.
SSL implementation does not perform a MAC computation if an incorrect block cipher padding is used, which causes an information leak (timing discrepancy) that may make it easier to launch cryptographic attacks that rely on distinguishing between padding and MAC verification errors, possibly leading to extraction of the original plaintext, aka the "Vaudenay timing attack."
Virtual machine allows malicious web site operators to determine the existence of files on the client by measuring delays in the execution of the getSystemResource method.
Product uses a shorter timeout for a non-existent user than a valid user, which makes it easier for remote attackers to guess usernames and conduct brute force password guessing.
Product immediately sends an error message when a user does not exist, which allows remote attackers to determine valid usernames via a timing attack.
FTP server responds in a different amount of time when a given username exists, which allows remote attackers to identify valid usernames by timing the server response.
Browser allows remote attackers to determine the existence of arbitrary files by setting the src property to the target filename and using Javascript to determine if the web page immediately stops loading, which indicates whether the file exists or not.
+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Architecture and Design

Strategy: Separation of Privilege

Compartmentalize the system to have "safe" areas where trust boundaries can be unambiguously drawn. Do not allow sensitive data to go outside of the trust boundary and always be careful when interfacing with a compartment outside of the safe area.

Ensure that appropriate compartmentalization is built into the system design, and the compartmentalization allows for and reinforces privilege separation functionality. Architects and designers should rely on the principle of least privilege to decide the appropriate time to use privileges and the time to drop privileges.

Phase: Implementation

Ensure that error messages only contain minimal details that are useful to the intended audience and no one else. The messages need to strike the balance between being too cryptic (which can confuse users) or being too detailed (which may reveal more than intended). The messages should not reveal the methods that were used to determine the error. Attackers can use detailed information to refine or optimize their original attack, thereby increasing their chances of success.

If errors must be captured in some detail, record them in log messages, but consider what could occur if the log messages can be viewed by attackers. Highly sensitive information such as passwords should never be saved to log files.

Avoid inconsistent messaging that might accidentally tip off an attacker about internal state, such as whether a user account exists or not.

+ 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.
NatureTypeIDName
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.717OWASP Top Ten 2007 Category A6 - Information Leakage and Improper Error Handling
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.728OWASP Top Ten 2004 Category A7 - Improper Error Handling
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).884CWE Cross-section
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.967SFP Secondary Cluster: State Disclosure
+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
PLOVERDiscrepancy Information Leaks
OWASP Top Ten 2007A6CWE More SpecificInformation Leakage and Improper Error Handling
OWASP Top Ten 2004A7CWE More SpecificImproper Error Handling
+ Content History
+ Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
2006-07-19PLOVER
+ Contributions
Contribution DateContributorOrganization
2020-06-03Nicole FernTortuga Logic
Provided Demonstrative Example for cache timing attack
+ Modifications
Modification DateModifierOrganization
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigital
updated Potential_Mitigations, Time_of_Introduction
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2009-12-28CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Description, Name
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Observed_Examples, Relationships
2012-10-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Potential_Mitigations
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2017-11-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms
2019-06-20CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Type
2020-02-24CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Alternate_Terms, Applicable_Platforms, Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Name, Observed_Examples, Relationships
2020-08-20CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Alternate_Terms, Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Name, Potential_Mitigations, Related_Attack_Patterns, Relationships, Research_Gaps
2020-12-10CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Name, Potential_Mitigations, Research_Gaps
2021-07-20CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples
+ Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2009-12-28Discrepancy Information Leaks
2020-02-24Information Exposure Through Discrepancy
2020-08-20Observable Discrepancy
2020-12-10Observable Differences in Behavior to Error Inputs
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Page Last Updated: July 20, 2021