Use of a Broken or Risky Cryptographic Algorithm

The product uses a broken or risky cryptographic algorithm or protocol.


Cryptographic algorithms are the methods by which data is scrambled to prevent observation or influence by unauthorized actors. Insecure cryptography can be exploited to expose sensitive information, modify data in unexpected ways, spoof identities of other users or devices, or other impacts.

It is very difficult to produce a secure algorithm, and even high-profile algorithms by accomplished cryptographic experts have been broken. Well-known techniques exist to break or weaken various kinds of cryptography. Accordingly, there are a small number of well-understood and heavily studied algorithms that should be used by most products. Using a non-standard or known-insecure algorithm is dangerous because a determined adversary may be able to break the algorithm and compromise whatever data has been protected.

Since the state of cryptography advances so rapidly, it is common for an algorithm to be considered "unsafe" even if it was once thought to be strong. This can happen when new attacks are discovered, or if computing power increases so much that the cryptographic algorithm no longer provides the amount of protection that was originally thought.

For a number of reasons, this weakness is even more challenging to manage with hardware deployment of cryptographic algorithms as opposed to software implementation. First, if a flaw is discovered with hardware-implemented cryptography, the flaw cannot be fixed in most cases without a recall of the product, because hardware is not easily replaceable like software. Second, because the hardware product is expected to work for years, the adversary's computing power will only increase over time.


The following examples help to illustrate the nature of this weakness and describe methods or techniques which can be used to mitigate the risk.

Note that the examples here are by no means exhaustive and any given weakness may have many subtle varieties, each of which may require different detection methods or runtime controls.

Example One

These code examples use the Data Encryption Standard (DES).

Cipher des=Cipher.getInstance("DES...");
function encryptPassword($password){
  $iv_size = mcrypt_get_iv_size(MCRYPT_DES, MCRYPT_MODE_ECB);
  $iv = mcrypt_create_iv($iv_size, MCRYPT_RAND);
  $key = "This is a password encryption key";
  $encryptedPassword = mcrypt_encrypt(MCRYPT_DES, $key, $password, MCRYPT_MODE_ECB, $iv);
  return $encryptedPassword;

Once considered a strong algorithm, DES now regarded as insufficient for many applications. It has been replaced by Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).

Example Two

Suppose a chip manufacturer decides to implement a hashing scheme for verifying integrity property of certain bitstream, and it chooses to implement a SHA1 hardware accelerator for to implement the scheme.

The manufacturer chooses a SHA1 hardware accelerator for to implement the scheme because it already has a working SHA1 Intellectual Property (IP) that the manufacturer had created and used earlier, so this reuse of IP saves design cost.

However, SHA1 was theoretically broken in 2005 and practically broken in 2017 at a cost of $110K. This means an attacker with access to cloud-rented computing power will now be able to provide a malicious bitstream with the same hash value, thereby defeating the purpose for which the hash was used.

This issue could have been avoided with better design.

The manufacturer could have chosen a cryptographic solution that is recommended by the wide security community (including standard-setting bodies like NIST) and is not expected to be broken (or even better, weakened) within the reasonable life expectancy of the hardware product. In this case, the architects could have used SHA-2 or SHA-3, even if it meant that such choice would cost extra.

Example Three

In 2022, the OT:ICEFALL study examined products by 10 different Operational Technology (OT) vendors. The researchers reported 56 vulnerabilities and said that the products were "insecure by design" [REF-1283]. If exploited, these vulnerabilities often allowed adversaries to change how the products operated, ranging from denial of service to changing the code that the products executed. Since these products were often used in industries such as power, electrical, water, and others, there could even be safety implications.

Multiple OT products used weak cryptography.

See Also

Comprehensive Categorization: Encryption

Weaknesses in this category are related to encryption.

ICS Communications: Frail Security in Protocols

Weaknesses in this category are related to the "Frail Security in Protocols" category from the SEI ETF "Categories of Security Vulnerabilities in ICS" as published in ...

OWASP Top Ten 2021 Category A02:2021 - Cryptographic Failures

Weaknesses in this category are related to the A02 category "Cryptographic Failures" in the OWASP Top Ten 2021.

Comprehensive CWE Dictionary

This view (slice) covers all the elements in CWE.

Weaknesses Addressed by ISA/IEC 62443 Requirements

This view (slice) covers weaknesses that are addressed by following requirements in the ISA/IEC 62443 series of standards for industrial automation and control systems...

Entries with Maintenance Notes

CWE entries in this view have maintenance notes. Maintenance notes are an indicator that an entry might change significantly in future versions. This view was created...

Common Weakness Enumeration content on this website is copyright of The MITRE Corporation unless otherwise specified. Use of the Common Weakness Enumeration and the associated references on this website are subject to the Terms of Use as specified by The MITRE Corporation.