Common Weakness Enumeration

A Community-Developed List of Software Weakness Types

CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Software Errors
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CWE-464: Addition of Data Structure Sentinel

Weakness ID: 464
Abstraction: Base
Status: Incomplete
Presentation Filter:
+ Description

Description Summary

The accidental addition of a data-structure sentinel can cause serious programming logic problems.

Extended Description

Data-structure sentinels are often used to mark the structure of data. A common example of this is the null character at the end of strings or a special sentinel to mark the end of a linked list. It is dangerous to allow this type of control data to be easily accessible. Therefore, it is important to protect from the addition or modification of sentinels.

+ Time of Introduction
  • Architecture and Design
  • Implementation
+ Applicable Platforms




+ Common Consequences

Technical Impact: Modify application data

Generally this error will cause the data structure to not work properly by truncating the data.

+ Likelihood of Exploit

High to Very High

+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

The following example assigns some character values to a list of characters and prints them each individually, and then as a string. The third character value is intended to be an integer taken from user input and converted to an int.

(Bad Code)
Example Languages: C and C++ 
char *foo;
printf("%c %c %c %c %c \n",foo[0],foo[1],foo[2],foo[3],foo[4]);

The first print statement will print each character separated by a space. However, if a non-integer is read from stdin by getc, then atoi will not make a conversion and return 0. When foo is printed as a string, the 0 at character foo[2] will act as a NULL terminator and foo[3] will never be printed.

+ Potential Mitigations

Phases: Implementation; Architecture and Design

Encapsulate the user from interacting with data sentinels. Validate user input to verify that sentinels are not present.

Phase: Implementation

Proper error checking can reduce the risk of inadvertently introducing sentinel values into data. For example, if a parsing function fails or encounters an error, it might return a value that is the same as the sentinel.

Phase: Architecture and Design

Use an abstraction library to abstract away risky APIs. This is not a complete solution.

Phase: Operation

Use OS-level preventative functionality. This is not a complete solution.

+ Relationships
NatureTypeIDNameView(s) this relationship pertains toView(s)
ChildOfWeakness ClassWeakness Class138Improper Neutralization of Special Elements
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ChildOfCategoryCategory461Data Structure Issues
Development Concepts (primary)699
ChildOfCategoryCategory741CERT C Secure Coding Section 07 - Characters and Strings (STR)
Weaknesses Addressed by the CERT C Secure Coding Standard (primary)734
ChildOfCategoryCategory875CERT C++ Secure Coding Section 07 - Characters and Strings (STR)
Weaknesses Addressed by the CERT C++ Secure Coding Standard (primary)868
ChildOfCategoryCategory977SFP Secondary Cluster: Design
Software Fault Pattern (SFP) Clusters (primary)888
PeerOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base170Improper Null Termination
Research Concepts1000
PeerOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base463Deletion of Data Structure Sentinel
Research Concepts1000
+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
CLASPAddition of data-structure sentinel
CERT C Secure CodingSTR03-CDo not inadvertently truncate a null-terminated byte string
CERT C Secure CodingSTR06-CDo not assume that strtok() leaves the parse string unchanged
CERT C++ Secure CodingSTR03-CPPDo not inadvertently truncate a null-terminated character array
CERT C++ Secure CodingSTR06-CPPDo not assume that strtok() leaves the parse string unchanged
+ Content History
Submission DateSubmitterOrganizationSource
CLASPExternally Mined
Modification DateModifierOrganizationSource
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigitalExternal
updated Time_of_Introduction
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Applicable_Platforms, Common_Consequences, Relationships, Other_Notes, Taxonomy_Mappings
2008-11-24CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2009-07-27CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Other_Notes, Potential_Mitigations, Relationships
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Common_Consequences
2011-06-27CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Common_Consequences
2011-09-13CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships
2012-10-30CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Potential_Mitigations
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships
Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2008-04-11Addition of Data-structure Sentinel

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Page Last Updated: May 05, 2017