Improper Following of a Certificate's Chain of Trust

The software does not follow, or incorrectly follows, the chain of trust for a certificate back to a trusted root certificate, resulting in incorrect trust of any resource that is associated with that certificate.


If a system does not follow the chain of trust of a certificate to a root server, the certificate loses all usefulness as a metric of trust. Essentially, the trust gained from a certificate is derived from a chain of trust -- with a reputable trusted entity at the end of that list. The end user must trust that reputable source, and this reputable source must vouch for the resource in question through the medium of the certificate.

In some cases, this trust traverses several entities who vouch for one another. The entity trusted by the end user is at one end of this trust chain, while the certificate-wielding resource is at the other end of the chain. If the user receives a certificate at the end of one of these trust chains and then proceeds to check only that the first link in the chain, no real trust has been derived, since the entire chain must be traversed back to a trusted source to verify the certificate.

There are several ways in which the chain of trust might be broken, including but not limited to:

Any certificate in the chain is self-signed, unless it the root.

Not every intermediate certificate is checked, starting from the original certificate all the way up to the root certificate.

An intermediate, CA-signed certificate does not have the expected Basic Constraints or other important extensions.

The root certificate has been compromised or authorized to the wrong party.


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

This code checks the certificate of a connected peer.

if ((cert = SSL_get_peer_certificate(ssl)) && host)

if ((X509_V_OK==foo) || X509_V_ERR_SELF_SIGNED_CERT_IN_CHAIN==foo))

  // certificate looks good, host can be trusted

In this case, because the certificate is self-signed, there was no external authority that could prove the identity of the host. The program could be communicating with a different system that is spoofing the host, e.g. by poisoning the DNS cache or using a MITM attack to modify the traffic from server to client.

See Also

Authentication Errors

Weaknesses in this category are related to authentication components of a system. Frequently these deal with the ability to verify that an entity is indeed who it clai...

Identify Actors

Weaknesses in this category are related to the design and architecture of a system's identification management components. Frequently these deal with verifying that ex...

SFP Secondary Cluster: Digital Certificate

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

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...

CWE Cross-section

This view contains a selection of weaknesses that represent the variety of weaknesses that are captured in CWE, at a level of abstraction that is likely to be useful t...

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.