Use of Externally-Controlled Input to Select Classes or Code ('Unsafe Reflection')

The application uses external input with reflection to select which classes or code to use, but it does not sufficiently prevent the input from selecting improper classes or code.


Description

If the application uses external inputs to determine which class to instantiate or which method to invoke, then an attacker could supply values to select unexpected classes or methods. If this occurs, then the attacker could create control flow paths that were not intended by the developer. These paths could bypass authentication or access control checks, or otherwise cause the application to behave in an unexpected manner. This situation becomes a doomsday scenario if the attacker can upload files into a location that appears on the application's classpath (CWE-427) or add new entries to the application's classpath (CWE-426). Under either of these conditions, the attacker can use reflection to introduce new, malicious behavior into the application.

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

A common reason that programmers use the reflection API is to implement their own command dispatcher. The following example shows a command dispatcher that does not use reflection:

String ctl = request.getParameter("ctl");
Worker ao = null;
if (ctl.equals("Add")) {
  ao = new AddCommand();
}
else if (ctl.equals("Modify")) {
  ao = new ModifyCommand();
}
else {
  throw new UnknownActionError();
}
ao.doAction(request);

A programmer might refactor this code to use reflection as follows:

String ctl = request.getParameter("ctl");
Class cmdClass = Class.forName(ctl + "Command");
Worker ao = (Worker) cmdClass.newInstance();
ao.doAction(request);

The refactoring initially appears to offer a number of advantages. There are fewer lines of code, the if/else blocks have been entirely eliminated, and it is now possible to add new command types without modifying the command dispatcher. However, the refactoring allows an attacker to instantiate any object that implements the Worker interface. If the command dispatcher is still responsible for access control, then whenever programmers create a new class that implements the Worker interface, they must remember to modify the dispatcher's access control code. If they do not modify the access control code, then some Worker classes will not have any access control.

One way to address this access control problem is to make the Worker object responsible for performing the access control check. An example of the re-refactored code follows:

String ctl = request.getParameter("ctl");
Class cmdClass = Class.forName(ctl + "Command");
Worker ao = (Worker) cmdClass.newInstance();
ao.checkAccessControl(request);
ao.doAction(request);

Although this is an improvement, it encourages a decentralized approach to access control, which makes it easier for programmers to make access control mistakes. This code also highlights another security problem with using reflection to build a command dispatcher. An attacker can invoke the default constructor for any kind of object. In fact, the attacker is not even constrained to objects that implement the Worker interface; the default constructor for any object in the system can be invoked. If the object does not implement the Worker interface, a ClassCastException will be thrown before the assignment to ao, but if the constructor performs operations that work in the attacker's favor, the damage will already have been done. Although this scenario is relatively benign in simple applications, in larger applications where complexity grows exponentially it is not unreasonable that an attacker could find a constructor to leverage as part of an attack.

See Also

SFP Secondary Cluster: Tainted Input to Environment

This category identifies Software Fault Patterns (SFPs) within the Tainted Input to Environment cluster (SFP27).

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...

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...


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