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All About CWE: Common Weakness Enumeration

All About CWE: Common Weakness Enumeration Reading Time: 5 minutes

Cybersecurity is all about mitigation and prevention when it comes to CWE or common weakness enumeration. The Mitre corporation maintains the CWE category system that catalogs the various vulnerabilities.

It works alongside the U.S. National Vulnerability Database or NVD—the collection of vulnerability management data based on standards operated by the federal government. The NIST or National Institute of Standards and Technology oversees the NVD. OWASP, the non-profit and open source Open Web Application Security Project®, also works diligently to bolster web information security.

In this blog, we’ll review everything you need to know to understand about software weaknesses and general cybersecurity in software development. Moreover, it discusses how best to use them, too. Like anything, we have to start with the basics and get more granular from there. This blog will cover:

  1. What is CWE in security?
  2. What is CWE software?
  3. How many CWEs are there?
  4. What are the conditions that make you vulnerable?
  5. What are the examples of vulnerability?
  6. How do we measure vulnerability?
  7. What is common weakness enumeration scoring?
  8. What is CWE vs CVE?

Image of the Mitre corporation logo in black and white photo

What Is CWE?

There are plenty of acronyms across every industry, but CWE is a big one for software security. Static analysis and security tools must be backed by a knowledge of what to look for and how to approach the ideal level of risk appropriate for your project.

CWE seeks to make vulnerability management more streamlined and accessible. The community-developed catalog features hardware and software weaknesses and is described as “a common language, a measuring stick for security tools, and a baseline for weakness identification, mitigation, and prevention efforts.”

Who Owns CWE?

As mentioned, the Mitre Corporation owns and maintains the CWE. They also manage FFRDCs or federally funded research and development centers for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as well as agencies in healthcare, aviation, defense, and, of course, cybersecurity.

The CWE list compiles common vulnerabilities and exposures that can help programmers and software developers maintain information security. After all, adhering to security policies through the development lifecycle is much easier to manage than post-breach strategies.

How Many CWEs Are There?

There is only one CWE as managed by the Mitre Corporation. However, that list contains more than 600 categories. Its latest version (3.2) released in January of 2019.

Source code on a screen looking for software weaknesses

What Is CWE Software?

Categories for CWE range from everything like SEI CERT Oracle Coding Standard for Java to Weaknesses without Software Fault Patterns. Luckily, the taxonomy, organization, and accessibility of the categories rank very high.

The catalog uses a numbered system under the three main areas of vulnerability:

ViewFunction
Software DevelopmentConcepts get grouped by frequency of encounter or use in source code development.
Hardware DesignCommonly seen or used weaknesses in hardware design are grouped together.
Research ConceptsIn order to facilitate research into common issues, items are grouped by their behaviors.

For instance, CWE-89 deals with how SQL Injection flaws occur, but also links to helpful CWE sections to further mitigate security weakness.

CWE vs. CVE

CVE is an acronym for common vulnerabilities and exposures. In short: the difference between CVE vs. CWE is that one treats symptoms while the other treats a cause. If the CWE categorizes types of software vulnerabilities, the CVE is simply a list of currently known issues regarding specific systems and products.

US-CERT sponsors the project with Mitre overseeing it, as well. Maintaining security control for software assurance can utilize CVE, but it is not as integral as CWE is. However, it is easily CWE compatible—a functionality ensured by Mitre.

What Are The Conditions That Make You Vulnerable?

Identifying the most dangerous security weakness points is right up the CWE’s alley. The categories can help you identify exactly what is compromising your systems and fix it. As for which conditions make you the most vulnerable, that often relates to the most common.

What Is The Most Common Vulnerability?

Determining the overall most common software vulnerability depends on many variables. After all, the challenges that web application security face are not the same as offline programs. But whether dealing with an SQL command injection, php issue, memory buffer, or even special elements, the CWE can help 99% of the time.

Common CWE Categories and security vulnerabilities include:

  • Cross-site scripting
  • Buffer overflows
  • Hard-coded passwords
  • Directory tree/path traversal errors
  • Race condition
  • Broken authentication
  • Injection flaws
  • Broken access control
  • XML external entities
  • Insecure deserialization

Man sits in missile launch control room during lift off working on embedded system

Embedded Vs. Enterprise CWE

Knowing the kinds of application security you need is crucial to any project. The scope of the project will dictate your weak points. For instance, are you using cloud security? That means that you might focus on data loss prevention and application security.

But knowing whether a system is an enterprise or an embedded system plays a big role, too.

Enterprise System

Communication happens via the internet which means plenty of vulnerability and risks—especially compared to embedded systems. Network security is not as easy to ensure, so vulnerability management is key.

Embedded System

These programs are often written in C or C++. Think of things like pacemakers, refrigerators, and missile systems. Communication goes between embedded systems, so static analysis tools and common weakness enumeration can identify problems.

Best Practices for Using Static Analysis Tools

Digital image of line graph for CWE scoring

What is Common Weakness Enumeration Scoring?

The overseeing body has four methodologies:

  1. Common Weakness Risk Analysis Framework (CWRAF™). This is used along with CWSS™ to provide a company with their own personal Top X numbered list of most prevalent weaknesses.
  2. Prioritizing weaknesses based upon your organization’s mission. Not every company needs to fix all of the things at once. This method allows you to address your most pressing needs in a way that maintains the integrity, reliability, and functionality of your software.
  3. CWE Top 25 most dangerous software errors. Mitre updates this list every so often with the help of more than 20 industry specialists. It contains the most common weaknesses as noted for the time.
  4. Common Weakness Scoring System (CWSS™). The CWSS™ allows developers to prioritize issues with flexibility, collaboration, and consistency.
An Overview of the CWE Top 25 and On the Cusp Latest Updates

How Do We Measure Vulnerability?

The CWSS™ helps developers sift through hundreds of bugs that can be found in their code. However, automated tools can also be used for custom scoring and vulnerability scans, but bear in mind that each tool will produce its own score.

CWSS™ utilizes the following to maintain consistency:

  • A common framework drives toward uniformity and ease of use and access.
  • Quantitative measurements can help teams determine the scope of a fix.
  • Customized prioritization works with CWRAF™ to help users find the most pressing kinds of weaknesses to improve their software and security.

Abstract digital imagery to display buffer overflow and cybersecurity importance for CWE

Learn More About CWE & CWE Compatible Tools

Finding and fixing bugs remains an ever-moving target. But having the right tools in your arsenal can make the process much more streamlined, straightforward, and automated. Don’t let your weaknesses add up to massive vulnerabilities. Start small to see big payoffs down the road.

Text in white font on dark blue background: Embedded Cybersecurity Through Secure Coding Standards. Red button with white font underneath title: Download Whitepaper.

Written by

Ricardo Camacho

A Sr. Technical Product Marketing Manager for Parasoft’s embedded testing solutions, Ricardo has expertise in the SDLC and test automation of embedded real-time, safety and security-critical applications, and software compliance to industry standards.

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