Incorrect Comparison

The software compares two entities in a security-relevant context, but the comparison is incorrect, which may lead to resultant weaknesses.


This weakness class covers several possibilities:

the comparison checks one factor incorrectly;

the comparison should consider multiple factors, but it does not check some of those factors at all;

the comparison checks the wrong factor.


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

Consider an application in which Truck objects are defined to be the same if they have the same make, the same model, and were manufactured in the same year.

public class Truck {

  private String make;
  private String model;
  private int year;

  public boolean equals(Object o) {

    if (o == null) return false;
    if (o == this) return true;
    if (!(o instanceof Truck)) return false;

    Truck t = (Truck) o;

    return (this.make.equals(t.getMake()) && this.model.equals(t.getModel()));



Here, the equals() method only checks the make and model of the Truck objects, but the year of manufacture is not included.

Example Two

This example defines a fixed username and password. The AuthenticateUser() function is intended to accept a username and a password from an untrusted user, and check to ensure that it matches the username and password. If the username and password match, AuthenticateUser() is intended to indicate that authentication succeeded.

/* Ignore CWE-259 (hard-coded password) and CWE-309 (use of password system for authentication) for this example. */

char *username = "admin";
char *pass = "password";

int AuthenticateUser(char *inUser, char *inPass) {
  if (strncmp(username, inUser, strlen(inUser))) {
    logEvent("Auth failure of username using strlen of inUser");
  if (! strncmp(pass, inPass, strlen(inPass))) {
    logEvent("Auth success of password using strlen of inUser");
  else {
    logEvent("Auth fail of password using sizeof");

int main (int argc, char **argv) {
  int authResult;

  if (argc < 3) {
    ExitError("Usage: Provide a username and password");
  authResult = AuthenticateUser(argv[1], argv[2]);
  if (authResult == AUTH_SUCCESS) {
  else {
    ExitError("Authentication failed");

In AuthenticateUser(), the strncmp() call uses the string length of an attacker-provided inPass parameter in order to determine how many characters to check in the password. So, if the attacker only provides a password of length 1, the check will only examine the first byte of the application's password before determining success.

As a result, this partial comparison leads to improper authentication (CWE-287).

Any of these passwords would still cause authentication to succeed for the "admin" user:


This significantly reduces the search space for an attacker, making brute force attacks more feasible.

The same problem also applies to the username, so values such as "a" and "adm" will succeed for the username.

While this demonstrative example may not seem realistic, see the Observed Examples for CVE entries that effectively reflect this same weakness.

See Also

SEI CERT Oracle Secure Coding Standard for Java - Guidelines 06. Methods (MET)

Weaknesses in this category are related to the rules and recommendations in the Methods (MET) section of the SEI CERT Oracle Secure Coding Standard for Java.

SFP Secondary Cluster: Design

This category identifies Software Fault Patterns (SFPs) within the Design cluster.

CERT C++ Secure Coding Section 49 - Miscellaneous (MSC)

Weaknesses in this category are related to rules in the Miscellaneous (MSC) section of the CERT C++ Secure Coding Standard. Since not all rules map to specific weaknes...

Comprehensive CWE Dictionary

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

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...

Weaknesses for Simplified Mapping of Published Vulnerabilities

CWE entries in this view (graph) may be used to categorize potential weaknesses within sources that handle public, third-party vulnerability information, such as the N...

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