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Common Weakness Enumeration

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ID

CWE-478: Missing Default Case in Multiple Condition Expression

Weakness ID: 478
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
View customized information:
+ Description
The code does not have a default case in an expression with multiple conditions, such as a switch statement.
+ Extended Description
If a multiple-condition expression (such as a switch in C) omits the default case but does not consider or handle all possible values that could occur, then this might lead to complex logical errors and resultant weaknesses. Because of this, further decisions are made based on poor information, and cascading failure results. This cascading failure may result in any number of security issues, and constitutes a significant failure in the system.
+ 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.1023Incomplete Comparison with Missing Factors
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 "Software Development" (CWE-699)
NatureTypeIDName
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1006Bad Coding Practices
+ 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
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

C (Undetermined Prevalence)

C++ (Undetermined Prevalence)

Java (Undetermined Prevalence)

C# (Undetermined Prevalence)

Python (Undetermined Prevalence)

JavaScript (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
Integrity

Technical Impact: Varies by Context; Alter Execution Logic

Depending on the logical circumstances involved, any consequences may result: e.g., issues of confidentiality, authentication, authorization, availability, integrity, accountability, or non-repudiation.
+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

The following does not properly check the return code in the case where the security_check function returns a -1 value when an error occurs. If an attacker can supply data that will invoke an error, the attacker can bypass the security check:

(bad code)
Example Language:
#define FAILED 0
#define PASSED 1
int result;
...
result = security_check(data);
switch (result) {
case FAILED:
printf("Security check failed!\n");
exit(-1);
//Break never reached because of exit()
break;

case PASSED:
printf("Security check passed.\n");
break;
}
// program execution continues...
...

Instead a default label should be used for unaccounted conditions:

(good code)
Example Language:
#define FAILED 0
#define PASSED 1
int result;
...
result = security_check(data);
switch (result) {
case FAILED:
printf("Security check failed!\n");
exit(-1);
//Break never reached because of exit()
break;

case PASSED:
printf("Security check passed.\n");
break;

default:
printf("Unknown error (%d), exiting...\n",result);
exit(-1);
}

This label is used because the assumption cannot be made that all possible cases are accounted for. A good practice is to reserve the default case for error handling.

Example 2

In the following Java example the method getInterestRate retrieves the interest rate for the number of points for a mortgage. The number of points is provided within the input parameter and a switch statement will set the interest rate value to be returned based on the number of points.

(bad code)
Example Language: Java 
public static final String INTEREST_RATE_AT_ZERO_POINTS = "5.00";
public static final String INTEREST_RATE_AT_ONE_POINTS = "4.75";
public static final String INTEREST_RATE_AT_TWO_POINTS = "4.50";
...
public BigDecimal getInterestRate(int points) {
BigDecimal result = new BigDecimal(INTEREST_RATE_AT_ZERO_POINTS);

switch (points) {
case 0:
result = new BigDecimal(INTEREST_RATE_AT_ZERO_POINTS);
break;

case 1:
result = new BigDecimal(INTEREST_RATE_AT_ONE_POINTS);
break;

case 2:
result = new BigDecimal(INTEREST_RATE_AT_TWO_POINTS);
break;
}
return result;
}

However, this code assumes that the value of the points input parameter will always be 0, 1 or 2 and does not check for other incorrect values passed to the method. This can be easily accomplished by providing a default label in the switch statement that outputs an error message indicating an invalid value for the points input parameter and returning a null value.

(good code)
Example Language: Java 
public static final String INTEREST_RATE_AT_ZERO_POINTS = "5.00";
public static final String INTEREST_RATE_AT_ONE_POINTS = "4.75";
public static final String INTEREST_RATE_AT_TWO_POINTS = "4.50";
...
public BigDecimal getInterestRate(int points) {
BigDecimal result = new BigDecimal(INTEREST_RATE_AT_ZERO_POINTS);

switch (points) {
case 0:
result = new BigDecimal(INTEREST_RATE_AT_ZERO_POINTS);
break;

case 1:
result = new BigDecimal(INTEREST_RATE_AT_ONE_POINTS);
break;

case 2:
result = new BigDecimal(INTEREST_RATE_AT_TWO_POINTS);
break;

default:
System.err.println("Invalid value for points, must be 0, 1 or 2");
System.err.println("Returning null value for interest rate");
result = null;
}

return result;
}

Example 3

In the following Python example the match-case statements (available in Python version 3.10 and later) perform actions based on the result of the process_data() function. The expected return is either 0 or 1. However, if an unexpected result (e.g., -1 or 2) is obtained then no actions will be taken potentially leading to an unexpected program state.

(bad code)
Example Language: Python 
result = process_data(data)
match result:
case 0:
print("Properly handle zero case.")

case 1:
print("Properly handle one case.")

# program execution continues...

The recommended approach is to add a default case that captures any unexpected result conditions, regardless of how improbable these unexpected conditions might be, and properly handles them.

(good code)
Example Language: Python 
result = process_data(data)
match result:
case 0:
print("Properly handle zero case.")

case 1:
print("Properly handle one case.")

case _:
print("Properly handle unexpected condition.")

# program execution continues...

Example 4

In the following JavaScript example the switch-case statements (available in JavaScript version 1.2 and later) are used to process a given step based on the result of a calcuation involving two inputs. The expected return is either 1, 2, or 3. However, if an unexpected result (e.g., 4) is obtained then no action will be taken potentially leading to an unexpected program state.

(bad code)
Example Language: JavaScript 
let step = input1 + input2;
switch(step) {
case 1:
alert("Process step 1.");
break;

case 2:
alert("Process step 2.");
break;

case 3:
alert("Process step 3.");
break;

}
// program execution continues...

The recommended approach is to add a default case that captures any unexpected result conditions and properly handles them.

(good code)
Example Language: JavaScript 
let step = input1 + input2;
switch(step) {
case 1:
alert("Process step 1.");
break;

case 2:
alert("Process step 2.");
break;

case 3:
alert("Process step 3.");
break;

default:
alert("Unexpected step encountered.");

}
// program execution continues...

Example 5

The Finite State Machine (FSM) shown in the "bad" code snippet below assigns the output ("out") based on the value of state, which is determined based on the user provided input ("user_input").

(bad code)
Example Language: Verilog 
module fsm_1(out, user_input, clk, rst_n);
input [2:0] user_input;
input clk, rst_n;
output reg [2:0] out;
reg [1:0] state;
always @ (posedge clk or negedge rst_n )
begin
if (!rst_n)
state = 3'h0;
else
case (user_input)
3'h0:
3'h1:
3'h2:
3'h3: state = 2'h3;
3'h4: state = 2'h2;
3'h5: state = 2'h1;
endcase
end
out <= {1'h1, state};
endmodule

The case statement does not include a default to handle the scenario when the user provides inputs of 3'h6 and 3'h7. Those inputs push the system to an undefined state and might cause a crash (denial of service) or any other unanticipated outcome.

Adding a default statement to handle undefined inputs mitigates this issue. This is shown in the "Good" code snippet below. The default statement is in bold.

(good code)
Example Language: Verilog 
case (user_input)
3'h0:
3'h1:
3'h2:
3'h3: state = 2'h3;
3'h4: state = 2'h2;
3'h5: state = 2'h1;
default: state = 2'h0;
endcase
+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Implementation

Ensure that there are no cases unaccounted for when adjusting program flow or values based on the value of a given variable. In the case of switch style statements, the very simple act of creating a default case can, if done correctly, mitigate this situation. Often however, the default case is used simply to represent an assumed option, as opposed to working as a check for invalid input. This is poor practice and in some cases is as bad as omitting a default case entirely.
+ Weakness Ordinalities
OrdinalityDescription
Primary
(where the weakness exists independent of other weaknesses)
+ 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
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.962SFP Secondary Cluster: Unchecked Status Condition
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1307CISQ Quality Measures - Maintainability
+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
CLASPFailure to account for default case in switch
Software Fault PatternsSFP4Unchecked Status Condition
+ References
[REF-18] Secure Software, Inc.. "The CLASP Application Security Process". 2005. <https://cwe.mitre.org/documents/sources/TheCLASPApplicationSecurityProcess.pdf>.
[REF-62] Mark Dowd, John McDonald and Justin Schuh. "The Art of Software Security Assessment". Chapter 7, "Switch Statements", Page 337. 1st Edition. Addison Wesley. 2006.
+ Content History
+ Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
2006-07-19CLASP
+ Contributions
Contribution DateContributorOrganization
2022-08-15Drew Buttner
Suggested name change and other modifications, including a new demonstrative example.
+ Modifications
Modification DateModifierOrganization
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigital
updated Time_of_Introduction
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, Common_Consequences, Description, Relationships, Other_Notes, Taxonomy_Mappings, Weakness_Ordinalities
2009-05-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Description, Name
2010-06-21CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2011-03-29CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences
2011-06-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated References, Relationships
2014-06-23CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Description, Other_Notes, Potential_Mitigations
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2017-11-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2018-03-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2019-01-03CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2020-02-24CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated References, Relationships, Type
2020-08-20CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2022-10-13CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, Demonstrative_Examples, Description, Name, Potential_Mitigations
+ Previous Entry Names
Change DatePrevious Entry Name
2008-04-11Failure to Account for Default Case in Switch
2009-05-27Failure to Use Default Case in Switch
2022-10-13Missing Default Case in Switch Statement
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Page Last Updated: October 13, 2022