Improper Handling of Overlap Between Protected Memory Ranges

The product allows address regions to overlap, which can result in the bypassing of intended memory protection.


Isolated memory regions and access control (read/write) policies are used by hardware to protect privileged software. Software components are often allowed to change or remap memory region definitions in order to enable flexible and dynamically changeable memory management by system software.

If a software component running at lower privilege can program a memory address region to overlap with other memory regions used by software running at higher privilege, privilege escalation may be available to attackers. The memory protection unit (MPU) logic can incorrectly handle such an address overlap and allow the lower-privilege software to read or write into the protected memory region, resulting in privilege escalation attack. An address overlap weakness can also be used to launch a denial of service attack on the higher-privilege software memory regions.


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

For example, consider a design with a 16-bit address that has two software privilege levels: Privileged_SW and Non_privileged_SW. To isolate the system memory regions accessible by these two privilege levels, the design supports three memory regions: Region_0, Region_1, and Region_2.

Each region is defined by two 32 bit registers: its range and its access policy.

Address_range[15:0]: specifies the Base address of the region

Address_range[31:16]: specifies the size of the region

Access_policy[31:0]: specifies what types of software can access a region and which actions are allowed

Certain bits of the access policy are defined symbolically as follows:

Access_policy.read_np: if set to one, allows reads from Non_privileged_SW

Access_policy.write_np: if set to one, allows writes from Non_privileged_SW

Access_policy.execute_np: if set to one, allows code execution by Non_privileged_SW

Access_policy.read_p: if set to one, allows reads from Privileged_SW

Access_policy.write_p: if set to one, allows writes from Privileged_SW

Access_policy.execute_p: if set to one, allows code execution by Privileged_SW

For any requests from software, an address-protection filter checks the address range and access policies for each of the three regions, and only allows software access if all three filters allow access.

Consider the following goals for access control as intended by the designer:

Region_0 & Region_1: registers are programmable by Privileged_SW

Region_2: registers are programmable by Non_privileged_SW

The intention is that Non_privileged_SW cannot modify memory region and policies defined by Privileged_SW in Region_0 and Region_1. Thus, it cannot read or write the memory regions that Privileged_SW is using.

Non_privileged_SW can program the Address_range register for Region_2 so that its address overlaps with the ranges defined by Region_0 or Region_1. Using this capability, it is possible for Non_privileged_SW to block any memory region from being accessed by Privileged_SW, i.e., Region_0 and Region_1.

This design could be improved in several ways.

Ensure that software accesses to memory regions are only permitted if all three filters permit access. Additionally, the scheme could define a memory region priority to ensure that Region_2 (the memory region defined by Non_privileged_SW) cannot overlap Region_0 or Region_1 (which are used by Privileged_SW).

See Also

Privilege Separation and Access Control Issues

Weaknesses in this category are related to features and mechanisms providing hardware-based isolation and access control (e.g., identity, policy, locking control) of s...

Comprehensive CWE Dictionary

This view (slice) covers all the elements in CWE.

Weaknesses in the 2021 CWE Most Important Hardware Weaknesses List

CWE entries in this view are listed in the 2021 CWE Most Important Hardware Weaknesses List, as determined by the Hardware CWE Special Interest Group (HW CWE SIG).

Entries with Maintenance Notes

CWE entries in this view have maintenance notes. Maintenance notes are an indicator that an entry might change significantly in future versions. This view was created...

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