Improper Handling of Single Event Upsets

The hardware logic does not effectively handle when single-event upsets (SEUs) occur.


Technology trends such as CMOS-transistor down-sizing, use of new materials, and system-on-chip architectures continue to increase the sensitivity of systems to soft errors. These errors are random, and their causes might be internal (e.g., interconnect coupling) or external (e.g., cosmic radiation). These soft errors are not permanent in nature and cause temporary bit flips known as single-event upsets (SEUs). SEUs are induced errors in circuits caused when charged particles lose energy by ionizing the medium through which they pass, leaving behind a wake of electron-hole pairs that cause temporary failures. If these failures occur in security-sensitive modules in a chip, it might compromise the security guarantees of the chip. For instance, these temporary failures could be bit flips that change the privilege of a regular user to root.


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

This is an example from [REF-1089]. See the reference for full details of this issue.

Parity is error detecting but not error correcting.

Due to single-event upsets, bits are flipped in memories.  As a result, memory-parity checks fail, which results in restart and a temporary denial of service of two to three minutes.
Using error-correcting codes could have avoided the restart caused by SEUs.

Example Two

In 2016, a security researcher, who was also a patient using a pacemaker, was on an airplane when a bit flip occurred in the pacemaker, likely due to the higher prevalence of cosmic radiation at such heights. The pacemaker was designed to account for bit flips and went into a default safe mode, which still forced the patient to go to a hospital to get it reset. The bit flip also inadvertently enabled the researcher to access the crash file, perform reverse engineering, and detect a hard-coded key. [REF-1101]

See Also

Comprehensive Categorization: Improper Check or Handling of Exceptional Conditions

Weaknesses in this category are related to improper check or handling of exceptional conditions.

Physical Access Issues and Concerns

Weaknesses in this category are related to concerns of physical access.

ICS Communications: Unreliability

Weaknesses in this category are related to the "Unreliability" category from the SEI ETF "Categories of Security Vulnerabilities in ICS" as published in March 2022: "V...

Comprehensive CWE Dictionary

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

Weaknesses Introduced During Implementation

This view (slice) lists weaknesses that can be introduced during implementation.

Weaknesses Introduced During Design

This view (slice) lists weaknesses that can be introduced during design.

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