Unsafe window functions

There are a number of C/C++ functions that are not considered secure, and are known as 'banned' for that reason. These functions are:

  • memory allocation functions like alloca
  • string concatenation functions like strcat and strncat
  • string copy functions like strcpy and strncpy
  • gets functions like gets and _getts
  • isbad functions like IsBadWritePtr
  • numeric conversion functions like _iota and _itow
  • OEM conversion functions like CharToOem
  • path functions like _splitpath and makepath
  • scan functions like scanf
  • string print functions like sprintf and snprintf
  • string tokenizing functions like strtok

The SV.BANNED family of checkers finds the use of any of the banned functions in code.

The SV.BANNED.RECOMMENDED.WINDOW checker flags the use of the unsafe window function ChangeWindowMessageFilter.

Vulnerability and risk

Most of these prohibited functions were banned because they can lead to buffer overruns.

As well as functions like strcpy and strcat, the banned list includes many of the corresponding 'n' functions, like strncpy and strncat. Although the 'n' functions are often recommended as replacements for their matching non-'n' functions, they are now considered to have issues with non-null termination of overflowed buffers and lack of error returns on overflows.

Mitigation and prevention

Prohibiting the use of these banned APIs is a good way to remove a significant number of code vulnerabilities. The banned functions should be replaced with more secure versions, or the code should be re-designed to avoid the banned function entirely.

To avoid security issues, it is recommended that you use equivalent safe functions for each category of function when the safe equivalents exist for your compiler. From time to time, Microsoft updates and deprecates functions, so always check the latest documentation at In some cases, there are no replacement functions, so re-architecture of your code is advised. Using the ChangeWindowMessageFilter function is not recommended, as it has process-wide scope. Instead, use the ChangeWindowMessageFilterEx function to control access to specific windows as needed.

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