Use of Hard-coded Credentials
Weakness ID: 798 (Weakness Base)Status: Incomplete
+ Description

Description Summary

The software contains hard-coded credentials, such as a password or cryptographic key, which it uses for its own inbound authentication, outbound communication to external components, or encryption of internal data.

Extended Description

A hard-coded password typically leads to a significant authentication failure that can be difficult for the system administrator to detect. Once detected, it can be difficult to fix, so the administrator may be forced into disabling the product entirely. There are two main variations:

Inbound: the software contains an authentication mechanism that checks for a hard-coded password.

Outbound: the software connects to another system or component, and it contains hard-coded password for connecting to that component.

In the Inbound variant, a default administration account is created, and a simple password is hard-coded into the product and associated with that account. This hard-coded password is the same for each installation of the product, and it usually cannot be changed or disabled by system administrators without manually modifying the program, or otherwise patching the software. If the password is ever discovered or published (a common occurrence on the Internet), then anybody with knowledge of this password can access the product. Finally, since all installations of the software will have the same password, even across different organizations, this enables massive attacks such as worms to take place.

The Outbound variant applies to front-end systems that authenticate with a back-end service. The back-end service may require a fixed password which can be easily discovered. The programmer may simply hard-code those back-end credentials into the front-end software. Any user of that program may be able to extract the password. Client-side systems with hard-coded passwords pose even more of a threat, since the extraction of a password from a binary is usually very simple.

+ Time of Introduction
  • Architecture and Design
+ Applicable Platforms



+ Common Consequences

If hard-coded passwords are used, it is almost certain that malicious users will gain access to the account in question.

Access Control

This weakness can lead to the exposure of resources or functionality to unintended actors, possibly providing attackers with sensitive information or even execute arbitrary code.

+ Likelihood of Exploit

Very High

+ Detection Methods

Black Box

Credential storage in configuration files is findable using black box methods, but the use of hard-coded credentials for an incoming authentication routine typically involves an account that is not visible outside of the code.

Effectiveness: Moderate

Automated Static Analysis

Automated white box techniques have been published for detecting hard-coded credentials for incoming authentication, but there is some expert disagreement regarding their effectiveness and applicability to a broad range of methods.

Manual Static Analysis

This weakness may be detectable using manual code analysis. Unless authentication is decentralized and applied throughout the software, there can be sufficient time for the analyst to find incoming authentication routines and examine the program logic looking for usage of hard-coded credentials. Configuration files could also be analyzed.

These may be more effective than strictly automated techniques. This is especially the case with weaknesses that are related to design and business rules.

Manual Dynamic Analysis

For hard-coded credentials in incoming authentication: use monitoring tools that examine the software's process as it interacts with the operating system and the network. This technique is useful in cases when source code is unavailable, if the software was not developed by you, or if you want to verify that the build phase did not introduce any new weaknesses. Examples include debuggers that directly attach to the running process; system-call tracing utilities such as truss (Solaris) and strace (Linux); system activity monitors such as FileMon, RegMon, Process Monitor, and other Sysinternals utilities (Windows); and sniffers and protocol analyzers that monitor network traffic.

Attach the monitor to the process and perform a login. Using call trees or similar artifacts from the output, examine the associated behaviors and see if any of them appear to be comparing the input to a fixed string or value.

+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

The following code uses a hard-coded password to connect to a database:

(Bad Code)
Example Language: Java 
DriverManager.getConnection(url, "scott", "tiger");

This is an example of an external hard-coded password on the client-side of a connection. This code will run successfully, but anyone who has access to it will have access to the password. Once the program has shipped, there is no going back from the database user "scott" with a password of "tiger" unless the program is patched. A devious employee with access to this information can use it to break into the system. Even worse, if attackers have access to the bytecode for application, they can use the javap -c command to access the disassembled code, which will contain the values of the passwords used. The result of this operation might look something like the following for the example above:

javap -c ConnMngr.class
22: ldc #36; //String jdbc:mysql://
24: ldc #38; //String scott
26: ldc #17; //String tiger

Example 2

The following code is an example of an internal hard-coded password in the back-end:

(Bad Code)
Example Languages: C and C++ 
int VerifyAdmin(char *password) {
if (strcmp(password, "Mew!")) {

printf("Incorrect Password!\n");
printf("Entering Diagnostic Mode...\n");
(Bad Code)
Example Language: Java 
int VerifyAdmin(String password) {
if (passwd.Equals("Mew!")) {
//Diagnostic Mode

Every instance of this program can be placed into diagnostic mode with the same password. Even worse is the fact that if this program is distributed as a binary-only distribution, it is very difficult to change that password or disable this "functionality."

+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Architecture and Design

For outbound authentication: store passwords, keys, and other credentials outside of the code in a strongly-protected, encrypted configuration file or database that is protected from access by all outsiders, including other local users on the same system. Properly protect the key (CWE-320). If you cannot use encryption to protect the file, then make sure that the permissions are as restrictive as possible.

In Windows environments, the Encrypted File System (EFS) may provide some protection.

Phase: Architecture and Design

For inbound authentication: Rather than hard-code a default username and password, key, or other authentication credentials for first time logins, utilize a "first login" mode that requires the user to enter a unique strong password or key.

Phase: Architecture and Design

Perform access control checks and limit which entities can access the feature that requires the hard-coded credentials. For example, a feature might only be enabled through the system console instead of through a network connection.

Phase: Architecture and Design

For inbound authentication using passwords: apply strong one-way hashes to your passwords and store those hashes in a configuration file or database with appropriate access control. That way, theft of the file/database still requires the attacker to try to crack the password. When handling an incoming password during authentication, take the hash of the password and compare it to the hash that you have saved.

Use randomly assigned salts for each separate hash that you generate. This increases the amount of computation that an attacker needs to conduct a brute-force attack, possibly limiting the effectiveness of the rainbow table method.

Phase: Architecture and Design

For front-end to back-end connections: Three solutions are possible, although none are complete.

  • The first suggestion involves the use of generated passwords or keys that are changed automatically and must be entered at given time intervals by a system administrator. These passwords will be held in memory and only be valid for the time intervals.

  • Next, the passwords or keys should be limited at the back end to only performing actions valid for the front end, as opposed to having full access.

  • Finally, the messages sent should be tagged and checksummed with time sensitive values so as to prevent replay-style attacks.

+ Weakness Ordinalities
(where the weakness exists independent of other weaknesses)
+ Relationships
NatureTypeIDNameView(s) this relationship pertains toView(s)
ChildOfCategoryCategory254Security Features
Seven Pernicious Kingdoms (primary)700
ChildOfCategoryCategory255Credentials Management
Development Concepts (primary)699
ChildOfWeakness ClassWeakness Class287Improper Authentication
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ChildOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base344Use of Invariant Value in Dynamically Changing Context
Research Concepts1000
ChildOfWeakness ClassWeakness Class671Lack of Administrator Control over Security
Research Concepts1000
ChildOfCategoryCategory724OWASP Top Ten 2004 Category A3 - Broken Authentication and Session Management
Weaknesses in OWASP Top Ten (2004) (primary)711
ChildOfCategoryCategory7532009 Top 25 - Porous Defenses
Weaknesses in the 2009 CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Programming Errors (primary)750
ChildOfCategoryCategory8032010 Top 25 - Porous Defenses
Weaknesses in the 2010 CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Programming Errors (primary)800
PeerOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base257Storing Passwords in a Recoverable Format
Research Concepts1000
ParentOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base259Use of Hard-coded Password
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ParentOfWeakness BaseWeakness Base321Use of Hard-coded Cryptographic Key
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
+ Causal Nature


+ Related Attack Patterns
CAPEC-IDAttack Pattern Name
(CAPEC Version: 1.4)
70Try Common(default) Usernames and Passwords
190Reverse Engineer an Executable to Expose Assumed Hidden Functionality or Content
205Lifting credential(s)/key material embedded in client distributions (thick or thin)
+ References
[REF-11] M. Howard and D. LeBlanc. "Writing Secure Code". Chapter 8, "Key Management Issues" Page 272. 2nd Edition. Microsoft. 2002.
+ Content History
Submission DateSubmitterOrganizationSource
2010-01-15MITREInternal CWE Team
More abstract entry for hard-coded password and hard-coded cryptographic key.