Common Weakness Enumeration

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CWE-228: Improper Handling of Syntactically Invalid Structure

Weakness ID: 228
Abstraction: Class
Status: Incomplete
Presentation Filter:
+ Description

Description Summary

The product does not handle or incorrectly handles input that is not syntactically well-formed with respect to the associated specification.
+ Time of Introduction
  • Implementation
  • Architecture and Design
+ Common Consequences

Technical Impact: Unexpected state; DoS: crash / exit / restart; DoS: resource consumption (CPU)

If an input is syntactically invalid, then processing the input could place the system in an unexpected state that could lead to a crash, consume available system resources or other unintended behaviors.

+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

This application has registered to handle a URL when sent an intent:

(Bad Code)
Example Language: Java 
IntentFilter filter = new IntentFilter("com.example.URLHandler.openURL");
MyReceiver receiver = new MyReceiver();
registerReceiver(receiver, filter);
public class UrlHandlerReceiver extends BroadcastReceiver {
public void onReceive(Context context, Intent intent) {
if("com.example.URLHandler.openURL".equals(intent.getAction())) {
String URL = intent.getStringExtra("URLToOpen");
int length = URL.length();

The application assumes the URL will always be included in the intent. When the URL is not present, the call to getStringExtra() will return null, thus causing a null pointer exception when length() is called.

+ Relationships
NatureTypeIDNameView(s) this relationship pertains toView(s)
ChildOfCategoryCategory137Representation Errors
Development Concepts (primary)699
ChildOfWeakness ClassWeakness Class703Improper Check or Handling of Exceptional Conditions
Research Concepts1000
ChildOfWeakness ClassWeakness Class707Improper Enforcement of Message or Data Structure
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ChildOfCategoryCategory728OWASP Top Ten 2004 Category A7 - Improper Error Handling
Weaknesses in OWASP Top Ten (2004) (primary)711
ChildOfCategoryCategory993SFP Secondary Cluster: Incorrect Input Handling
Software Fault Pattern (SFP) Clusters (primary)888
ParentOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base229Improper Handling of Values
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ParentOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base233Improper Handling of Parameters
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ParentOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base237Improper Handling of Structural Elements
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ParentOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base241Improper Handling of Unexpected Data Type
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
MemberOfViewView884CWE Cross-section
CWE Cross-section (primary)884
+ Relevant Properties
  • Validity
+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
PLOVERStructure and Validity Problems
OWASP Top Ten 2004A7CWE More SpecificImproper Error Handling
+ Maintenance Notes

This entry needs more investigation. Public vulnerability research generally focuses on the manipulations that generate invalid structure, instead of the weaknesses that are exploited by those manipulations. For example, a common attack involves making a request that omits a required field, which can trigger a crash in some cases. The crash could be due to a named chain such as CWE-690 (Unchecked Return Value to NULL Pointer Dereference), but public reports rarely cover this aspect of a vulnerability.

The validity of input could be roughly classified along "syntactic", "semantic", and "lexical" dimensions. If the specification requires that an input value should be delimited with the "[" and "]" square brackets, then any input that does not follow this specification would be syntactically invalid. If the input between the brackets is expected to be a number, but the letters "aaa" are provided, then the input is syntactically invalid. If the input is a number and enclosed in brackets, but the number is outside of the allowable range, then it is semantically invalid. The inter-relationships between these properties - and their associated weaknesses- need further exploration.

+ Content History
Submission DateSubmitterOrganizationSource
PLOVERExternally Mined
Modification DateModifierOrganizationSource
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigitalExternal
updated Time_of_Introduction
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Description, Maintenance_Notes, Name, Relationships, Relevant_Properties, Taxonomy_Mappings
2009-03-10CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Description, Name
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Common_Consequences
2011-06-27CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Common_Consequences
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Common_Consequences, Relationships
2014-02-18CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships
2017-01-19CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships
Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2008-09-09Structure and Validity Problems
2009-03-10Failure to Handle Syntactically Invalid Structure

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Page Last Updated: May 05, 2017