The software writes data past the end, or before the beginning, of the intended buffer.
Typically, this can result in corruption of data, a crash, or code execution. The software may modify an index or perform pointer arithmetic that references a memory location that is outside of the boundaries of the buffer. A subsequent write operation then produces undefined or unexpected results.
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.
The following code attempts to save four different identification numbers into an array.
Since the array is only allocated to hold three elements, the valid indices are 0 to 2; so, the assignment to id_sequence is out of bounds.
In the following example, it is possible to request that memcpy move a much larger segment of memory than assumed:
If returnChunkSize() happens to encounter an error it will return -1. Notice that the return value is not checked before the memcpy operation (CWE-252), so -1 can be passed as the size argument to memcpy() (CWE-805). Because memcpy() assumes that the value is unsigned, it will be interpreted as MAXINT-1 (CWE-195), and therefore will copy far more memory than is likely available to the destination buffer (CWE-787, CWE-788).
This example takes an IP address from a user, verifies that it is well formed and then looks up the hostname and copies it into a buffer.
This function allocates a buffer of 64 bytes to store the hostname, however there is no guarantee that the hostname will not be larger than 64 bytes. If an attacker specifies an address which resolves to a very large hostname, then the function may overwrite sensitive data or even relinquish control flow to the attacker.
This example applies an encoding procedure to an input string and stores it into a buffer.
The programmer attempts to encode the ampersand character in the user-controlled string, however the length of the string is validated before the encoding procedure is applied. Furthermore, the programmer assumes encoding expansion will only expand a given character by a factor of 4, while the encoding of the ampersand expands by 5. As a result, when the encoding procedure expands the string it is possible to overflow the destination buffer if the attacker provides a string of many ampersands.
In the following C/C++ example, a utility function is used to trim trailing whitespace from a character string. The function copies the input string to a local character string and uses a while statement to remove the trailing whitespace by moving backward through the string and overwriting whitespace with a NUL character.
However, this function can cause a buffer underwrite if the input character string contains all whitespace. On some systems the while statement will move backwards past the beginning of a character string and will call the isspace() function on an address outside of the bounds of the local buffer.
The following code allocates memory for a maximum number of widgets. It then gets a user-specified number of widgets, making sure that the user does not request too many. It then initializes the elements of the array using InitializeWidget(). Because the number of widgets can vary for each request, the code inserts a NULL pointer to signify the location of the last widget.
However, this code contains an off-by-one calculation error (CWE-193). It allocates exactly enough space to contain the specified number of widgets, but it does not include the space for the NULL pointer. As a result, the allocated buffer is smaller than it is supposed to be (CWE-131). So if the user ever requests MAX_NUM_WIDGETS, there is an out-of-bounds write (CWE-787) when the NULL is assigned. Depending on the environment and compilation settings, this could cause memory corruption.
The following is an example of code that may result in a buffer underwrite, if find() returns a negative value to indicate that ch is not found in srcBuf:
If the index to srcBuf is somehow under user control, this is an arbitrary write-what-where condition.
Weaknesses in this category are related to the handling of memory buffers within a software system.
This view (slice) covers all the elements in CWE.
CWE entries in this view are listed in the 2020 CWE Top 25 Most Dangerous Software Weaknesses.
CWE entries in this view are listed in the 2021 CWE Top 25 Most Dangerous Software Weaknesses.