Common Weakness Enumeration (CWE) and Why You Should Care

Common Weakness Enumeration (CWE) and Why You Should Care Security vulnerabilities come in all sizes, shapes, and forms today[...]
By Daniella Balaban
image September 01, 2022 image 6 MIN READ

Common Weakness Enumeration (CWE) and Why You Should Care

Security vulnerabilities come in all sizes, shapes, and forms today. Staying ahead of attackers requires organizations, their security teams, and pretty much everyone involved in the software delivery process end-to-end to be familiar with the most dangerous vulnerabilities and the leading security practices of the day. This is a big ask given the stress on teams to perform at high velocity and deliver new products and features by the day. However, a community-driven initiative seeks to help organizations with this challenge. The CWE (Common Weakness Enumeration) is very effective at combating security vulnerabilities. In this post, we look at the CWE, its background, why you should care about it, and even how you can introduce it to your organization.

What is Common Weakness Enumeration (CWE)?

According to the official website that maintains the CWE list, “Common Weakness Enumeration (CWE™) is a list of software and hardware weaknesses types.” The CWE is a list of community-curated definitions of vulnerabilities that looks to define a common language when talking about security vulnerabilities. These definitions help identify, track, respond to, and mitigate security vulnerabilities affecting many organizations. 

You can view the list of top 25 CWE software weaknesses or look at CWEs that affect other parts of a system, including hardware. Note that CWE should not be confused with CVE (Common Vulnerabilities & Exposures), which is a list of the actual vulnerabilities that affect systems. CWE, on the other hand, is exclusively focused on defining the various vulnerabilities rather than listing their various occurrences in systems.

Another way to learn more about the CWE is through its Common Terms Cheatsheet, which has some key terms used to describe various weaknesses. There is also the more detailed CWE glossary with a long list of terms and definitions. 

Who sponsors and manages the CWE community?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other U.S. government agencies are the key sponsors of the CWE. The funding goes through the MITRE corporation that manages and operates the CWE list. 

MITRE brings together policymakers, vendors, universities, and research institutions to solve the pressing problems around software and hardware security. With a global footprint and work impacting almost every organization in every sector, MITRE and the CWE list have a far-reaching impact. They are indispensable in today’s cloud-native world.

After recent security attacks that have affected thousands of organizations, including federal systems, the U.S. government has actively implemented security measures to mitigate such attacks in the future. The SolarWinds hack and the Log4j attack are two notable examples of vulnerabilities that have had a far-reaching impact on the digital world. The ripples of these attacks will be felt for years to come. 

The government has passed laws requiring organizations to disclose an SBOM (software bill of materials) that lists all components used in a software product. Initiatives like this and their support of the CWE list via the MITRE corporation are examples of how important cybersecurity is today. 

What is CWE compatibility?

The CWE offers a CWE Compatibility and Effectiveness program that endorses security solutions that meet its standards for security. These vendors apply to the program, go through a formal evaluation process, and if they are accepted, they are listed on the CWE website as a CWE-compatible product or service. These services can feature their product marketing materials on the website and at events conducted by MITRE. At the time of this writing, there are 80 listed services.

If your organization offers software or hardware security services or products, you should consider applying for this program and becoming enlisted. It is a mark of credibility and can do wonders for your product promotion.

If you are looking for a security solution to protect your systems better, you could consider some of the vendors on this list. IBM and Red Hat are two notable organizations heavily invested in open source and community-driven initiatives and are CWE-compatible.

Why should you care about CWE?

There are many reasons why you, as an individual, or your organization should care about the CWE. Here are a few:

Secure your organization:

The first reason to care about the CWE is that it has real implications for your organization’s security. Not just the security team but developers, testers, SREs, and other tech frontline workers need to be aware of the CWE. If the CWE is part of discussions regularly, it would show in a more secure organization.

Product development:

By understanding and implementing learnings from CWEs, your organization can build safer and better products and services. Whether it’s to mitigate a risk before it happens, or to triage and troubleshoot an incident after it occurs, the CWE can equip you with the right awareness and approach towards security incidents.

Better understand CVEs:

As the number of CVEs is always on the rise, it’s always possible that your organization is dealing with a CVE affecting hundreds of other organizations. In these cases, it helps to understand the common definitions, types, and characteristics of the vulnerability you’re dealing with. You may even be able to connect with other organizations and peers who can help you with an issue they have already faced and resolved.

Training & research:

The leading organizations have dedicated R&D teams for security. These teams can benefit by becoming familiar with the CWE. Of course, not every organization has a dedicated R&D team, and not every organization has dedicated trainers. This is where a solution like CybeReady can be invaluable to get your organization up to speed with the latest in the world of cybersecurity without much hassle. CybeReady’s training goes in-depth about CWEs and many other security concepts essential for any technology worker to understand.

Participate & secure the digital world:

The CWE is a community-driven initiative that encourages any organization to participate in its events, community, and operations. Doing so will mean you can be part of the solution to the growing threats in a digital world. A great way to influence the direction of security with the CWE is to consider becoming a member of one of the CWE Working Groups (WGs) or Special Interest Groups (SIGs). These high-impact roles would look great on any resume or LinkedIn profile.

What is Common Weakness Enumeration scoring?

The CWE offers scoring systems to enable organizations or developers to gauge their systems’ security. They can use methods such as Common Weakness Scoring System (CWSS) or Common Weakness Risk Analysis Framework (CWRAF) to get a customized CWE score for their organization or product. This can prove invaluable in directing the organization’s resources and focus toward key areas that need to be secured.

In a world where developers and security professionals are drowning in alerts, incidents, and bug reports, implementing a scoring mechanism can greatly simplify and focus a team’s efforts in the right direction. It helps to prioritize security vulnerabilities and attack the most important ones first.

What is the difference between CWE, CVE, and OWASP?

While all three are community-driven security initiatives, the CWE, CVE, and OWASP have subtle differences in what they focus on.

CVE is a list of publicly available incidents and vulnerabilities affecting software systems. This is a long list of various issues with details on each attack or vulnerability and how it varies in each instance.

OWASP: The Online Web Application Security Project curates the top 10 most dangerous vulnerabilities that affect web applications today. 

CWE: A list of the various weaknesses affecting software systems. It relies on the CVE and OWASP lists and focuses on building a unified language around security vulnerabilities.

As an organization looking to improve security, you need to be aware of all three and work towards using each of them in different parts of your security routine. This can be a lot to do, but it is essential for your organization’s safe and secure functioning in the digital world. The good news is that you don’t have to do this alone – you can leverage training and education solutions available today to equip your teams with cutting-edge security knowledge.  

Reduce Your Cybersecurity Risk with CWE

Whether organizations accept it or not, every organization today is involved in an ongoing digital war. Excelling at CWE awareness and translating that awareness into action is key to winning the cybersecurity war that rages on today. If you’ve heard about the CWE before but have not taken steps to introduce it to your teams and organization, now is the time. If you’ve not been familiar with the CWE before, it’s still a great time to familiarize yourself with CWE. Understand what it stands for and consider how you can make it part of your organization’s security initiatives

Fortunately, help is at hand. CybeReady offers in-depth training on the CWE and other related security topics essential for every organization. With customized training for each role or team, performance monitoring, and direct correlation to real-world security practices, CybeReady is the leading security awareness solution available today. 

Book a demo today, and see CybeReady in action for yourself.