Covert Storage Channel

A covert storage channel transfers information through the setting of bits by one program and the reading of those bits by another. What distinguishes this case from that of ordinary operation is that the bits are used to convey encoded information.


Covert storage channels occur when out-of-band data is stored in messages for the purpose of memory reuse. Covert channels are frequently classified as either storage or timing channels. Examples would include using a file intended to hold only audit information to convey user passwords--using the name of a file or perhaps status bits associated with it that can be read by all users to signal the contents of the file. Steganography, concealing information in such a manner that no one but the intended recipient knows of the existence of the message, is a good example of a covert storage channel.


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

An excellent example of covert storage channels in a well known application is the ICMP error message echoing functionality. Due to ambiguities in the ICMP RFC, many IP implementations use the memory within the packet for storage or calculation. For this reason, certain fields of certain packets -- such as ICMP error packets which echo back parts of received messages -- may contain flaws or extra information which betrays information about the identity of the target operating system. This information is then used to build up evidence to decide the environment of the target. This is the first crucial step in determining if a given system is vulnerable to a particular flaw and what changes must be made to malicious code to mount a successful attack.

See Also

SFP Secondary Cluster: Covert Channel

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

Communication Channel Errors

Weaknesses in this category are related to improper handling of communication channels and access paths. These weaknesses include problems in creating, managing, or re...

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.

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.