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Common Weakness Enumeration

A Community-Developed List of Software Weakness Types

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ID

CWE-824: Access of Uninitialized Pointer

Weakness ID: 824
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
Status: Incomplete
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The program accesses or uses a pointer that has not been initialized.
+ Extended Description

If the pointer contains an uninitialized value, then the value might not point to a valid memory location. This could cause the program to read from or write to unexpected memory locations, leading to a denial of service. If the uninitialized pointer is used as a function call, then arbitrary functions could be invoked. If an attacker can influence the portion of uninitialized memory that is contained in the pointer, this weakness could be leveraged to execute code or perform other attacks.

Depending on memory layout, associated memory management behaviors, and program operation, the attacker might be able to influence the contents of the uninitialized pointer, thus gaining more fine-grained control of the memory location to be accessed.

+ 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)
+ Relevant to the view "Weaknesses for Simplified Mapping of Published Vulnerabilities" (CWE-1003)
+ Relevant to the view "Development Concepts" (CWE-699)
+ 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.

ScopeImpactLikelihood
Confidentiality

Technical Impact: Read Memory

If the uninitialized pointer is used in a read operation, an attacker might be able to read sensitive portions of memory.
Availability

Technical Impact: DoS: Crash, Exit, or Restart

If the uninitialized pointer references a memory location that is not accessible to the program, or points to a location that is "malformed" (such as NULL) or larger than expected by a read or write operation, then a crash may occur.
Integrity
Confidentiality
Availability

Technical Impact: Execute Unauthorized Code or Commands

If the uninitialized pointer is used in a function call, or points to unexpected data in a write operation, then code execution may be possible.
+ Observed Examples
ReferenceDescription
chain: unchecked return value (CWE-252) leads to free of invalid, uninitialized pointer (CWE-824).
Pointer in structure is not initialized, leading to NULL pointer dereference (CWE-476) and system crash.
Free of an uninitialized pointer.
Improper handling of invalid signatures leads to free of invalid pointer.
Invalid encoding triggers free of uninitialized pointer.
Crafted PNG image leads to free of uninitialized pointer.
Crafted GIF image leads to free of uninitialized pointer.
Access of uninitialized pointer might lead to code execution.
Step-based manipulation: invocation of debugging function before the primary initialization function leads to access of an uninitialized pointer and code execution.
Unchecked return values can lead to a write to an uninitialized pointer.
zero-length input leads to free of uninitialized pointer.
Crafted font leads to uninitialized function pointer.
Uninitialized function pointer in freed memory is invoked
LDAP server mishandles malformed BER queries, leading to free of uninitialized memory
Firewall can crash with certain ICMP packets that trigger access of an uninitialized pointer.
LDAP server does not initialize members of structs, which leads to free of uninitialized pointer if an LDAP request fails.
+ Notes

Maintenance

There are close relationships between incorrect pointer dereferences and other weaknesses related to buffer operations. There may not be sufficient community agreement regarding these relationships. Further study is needed to determine when these relationships are chains, composites, perspective/layering, or other types of relationships. As of September 2010, most of the relationships are being captured as chains.

Research Gap

Under-studied and probably under-reported as of September 2010. This weakness has been reported in high-visibility software, but applied vulnerability researchers have only been investigating it since approximately 2008, and there are only a few public reports. Few reports identify weaknesses at such a low level, which makes it more difficult to find and study real-world code examples.

Terminology

Many weaknesses related to pointer dereferences fall under the general term of "memory corruption" or "memory safety." As of September 2010, there is no commonly-used terminology that covers the lower-level variants.
+ References
[REF-62] Mark Dowd, John McDonald and Justin Schuh. "The Art of Software Security Assessment". Chapter 7, "Variable Initialization", Page 312.. 1st Edition. Addison Wesley. 2006.
+ Content History
Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganizationSource
2010-09-22CWE Content TeamMITRE
Modifications
Modification DateModifierOrganizationSource
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated References
2015-12-07CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships

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Page Last Updated: November 14, 2017