Missing Initialization of Resource

The software does not initialize a critical resource.


Description

Many resources require initialization before they can be properly used. If a resource is not initialized, it could contain unpredictable or expired data, or it could be initialized to defaults that are invalid. This can have security implications when the resource is expected to have certain properties or values.

Demonstrations

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

Here, a boolean initiailized field is consulted to ensure that initialization tasks are only completed once. However, the field is mistakenly set to true during static initialization, so the initialization code is never reached.

private boolean initialized = true;
public void someMethod() {

  if (!initialized) {


    // perform initialization tasks
    ...

    initialized = true;

  }

Example Two

The following code intends to limit certain operations to the administrator only.

$username = GetCurrentUser();
$state = GetStateData($username);
if (defined($state)) {
  $uid = ExtractUserID($state);
}

# do stuff
if ($uid == 0) {
  DoAdminThings();
}

If the application is unable to extract the state information - say, due to a database timeout - then the $uid variable will not be explicitly set by the programmer. This will cause $uid to be regarded as equivalent to "0" in the conditional, allowing the original user to perform administrator actions. Even if the attacker cannot directly influence the state data, unexpected errors could cause incorrect privileges to be assigned to a user just by accident.

Example Three

The following code intends to concatenate a string to a variable and print the string.

char str[20];
strcat(str, "hello world");
printf("%s", str);

This might seem innocent enough, but str was not initialized, so it contains random memory. As a result, str[0] might not contain the null terminator, so the copy might start at an offset other than 0. The consequences can vary, depending on the underlying memory.

If a null terminator is found before str[8], then some bytes of random garbage will be printed before the "hello world" string. The memory might contain sensitive information from previous uses, such as a password (which might occur as a result of CWE-14 or CWE-244). In this example, it might not be a big deal, but consider what could happen if large amounts of memory are printed out before the null terminator is found.

If a null terminator isn't found before str[8], then a buffer overflow could occur, since strcat will first look for the null terminator, then copy 12 bytes starting with that location. Alternately, a buffer over-read might occur (CWE-126) if a null terminator isn't found before the end of the memory segment is reached, leading to a segmentation fault and crash.

Example Four

This example will leave test_string in an unknown condition when i is the same value as err_val, because test_string is not initialized (CWE-456). Depending on where this code segment appears (e.g. within a function body), test_string might be random if it is stored on the heap or stack. If the variable is declared in static memory, it might be zero or NULL. Compiler optimization might contribute to the unpredictability of this address.

char *test_string;
if (i != err_val)
{

  test_string = "Hello World!";
}
printf("%s", test_string);

When the printf() is reached, test_string might be an unexpected address, so the printf might print junk strings (CWE-457).

To fix this code, there are a couple approaches to making sure that test_string has been properly set once it reaches the printf().

One solution would be to set test_string to an acceptable default before the conditional:

char *test_string = "Done at the beginning";
if (i != err_val)
{

  test_string = "Hello World!";
}
printf("%s", test_string);

Another solution is to ensure that each branch of the conditional - including the default/else branch - could ensure that test_string is set:

char *test_string;
if (i != err_val)
{

  test_string = "Hello World!";
}
else {

  test_string = "Done on the other side!";
}
printf("%s", test_string);

See Also

Resource Management Errors

Weaknesses in this category are related to improper management of system resources.

Comprehensive CWE Dictionary

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

Weaknesses without Software Fault Patterns

CWE identifiers in this view are weaknesses that do not have associated Software Fault Patterns (SFPs), as covered by the CWE-888 view. As such, they represent gaps in...

Weaknesses Introduced During Implementation

This view (slice) lists weaknesses that can be introduced during implementation.


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