Use of Inner Class Containing Sensitive Data
Inner classes are translated into classes that are accessible at package scope and may expose code that the programmer intended to keep private to attackers.
Inner classes quietly introduce several security concerns because of the way they are translated into Java bytecode. In Java source code, it appears that an inner class can be declared to be accessible only by the enclosing class, but Java bytecode has no concept of an inner class, so the compiler must transform an inner class declaration into a peer class with package level access to the original outer class. More insidiously, since an inner class can access private fields in its enclosing class, once an inner class becomes a peer class in bytecode, the compiler converts private fields accessed by the inner class into protected fields.
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.
The following Java Applet code mistakenly makes use of an inner class.
The following example shows a basic use of inner classes. The class OuterClass contains the private member inner class InnerClass. The private inner class InnerClass includes the method concat that accesses the private member variables of the class OuterClass to output the value of one of the private member variables of the class OuterClass and returns a string that is a concatenation of one of the private member variables of the class OuterClass, the separator input parameter of the method and the private member variable of the class InnerClass.
Although this is an acceptable use of inner classes it demonstrates one of the weaknesses of inner classes that inner classes have complete access to all member variables and methods of the enclosing class even those that are declared private and protected. When inner classes are compiled and translated into Java bytecode the JVM treats the inner class as a peer class with package level access to the enclosing class.
To avoid this weakness of inner classes, consider using either static inner classes, local inner classes, or anonymous inner classes.
The following Java example demonstrates the use of static inner classes using the previous example. The inner class InnerClass is declared using the static modifier that signifies that InnerClass is a static member of the enclosing class OuterClass. By declaring an inner class as a static member of the enclosing class, the inner class can only access other static members and methods of the enclosing class and prevents the inner class from accessing nonstatic member variables and methods of the enclosing class. In this case the inner class InnerClass can only access the static member variable memberTwo of the enclosing class OuterClass but cannot access the nonstatic member variable memberOne.
The only limitation with using a static inner class is that as a static member of the enclosing class the inner class does not have a reference to instances of the enclosing class. For many situations this may not be ideal. An alternative is to use a local inner class or an anonymous inner class as shown in the next examples.
In the following example the BankAccount class contains the private member inner class InterestAdder that adds interest to the bank account balance. The start method of the BankAccount class creates an object of the inner class InterestAdder, the InterestAdder inner class implements the ActionListener interface with the method actionPerformed. A Timer object created within the start method of the BankAccount class invokes the actionPerformed method of the InterestAdder class every 30 days to add the interest to the bank account balance based on the interest rate passed to the start method as an input parameter. The inner class InterestAdder needs access to the private member variable balance of the BankAccount class in order to add the interest to the bank account balance.
However as demonstrated in the previous example, because InterestAdder is a non-static member inner class of the BankAccount class, InterestAdder also has access to the private member variables of the BankAccount class - including the sensitive data contained in the private member variables for the bank account owner's name, Social Security number, and the bank account number.
In the following example the InterestAdder class from the above example is declared locally within the start method of the BankAccount class. As a local inner class InterestAdder has its scope restricted to the method (or enclosing block) where it is declared, in this case only the start method has access to the inner class InterestAdder, no other classes including the enclosing class has knowledge of the inner class outside of the start method. This allows the inner class to access private member variables of the enclosing class but only within the scope of the enclosing method or block.
A similar approach would be to use an anonymous inner class as demonstrated in the next example. An anonymous inner class is declared without a name and creates only a single instance of the inner class object. As in the previous example the anonymous inner class has its scope restricted to the start method of the BankAccount class.
In the following Java example a simple applet provides the capability for a user to input a URL into a text field and have the URL opened in a new browser window. The applet contains an inner class that is an action listener for the submit button, when the user clicks the submit button the inner class action listener's actionPerformed method will open the URL entered into the text field in a new browser window. As with the previous examples using inner classes in this manner creates a security risk by exposing private variables and methods. Inner classes create an additional security risk with applets as applets are executed on a remote machine through a web browser within the same JVM and therefore may run side-by-side with other potentially malicious code.
As with the previous examples a solution to this problem would be to use a static inner class, a local inner class or an anonymous inner class. An alternative solution would be to have the applet implement the action listener rather than using it as an inner class as shown in the following example.
Weaknesses in this category are related to the rules and recommendations in the Object Orientation (OBJ) section of the SEI CERT Oracle Secure Coding Standard for Java.
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