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Common Weakness Enumeration

A Community-Developed List of Software Weakness Types

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ID

CWE-415: Double Free

Weakness ID: 415
Abstraction: Variant
Structure: Simple
Status: Draft
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The product calls free() twice on the same memory address, potentially leading to modification of unexpected memory locations.
+ Extended Description
When a program calls free() twice with the same argument, the program's memory management data structures become corrupted. This corruption can cause the program to crash or, in some circumstances, cause two later calls to malloc() to return the same pointer. If malloc() returns the same value twice and the program later gives the attacker control over the data that is written into this doubly-allocated memory, the program becomes vulnerable to a buffer overflow attack.
+ Relationships

The table(s) below shows the weaknesses and high level categories that are related to this weakness. These relationships are defined as ChildOf, ParentOf, MemberOf and give insight to similar items that may exist at higher and lower levels of abstraction. In addition, relationships such as PeerOf and CanAlsoBe are defined to show similar weaknesses that the user may want to explore.

+ Relevant to the view "Research Concepts" (CWE-1000)
+ Relevant to the view "Development Concepts" (CWE-699)
NatureTypeIDName
MemberOfCategoryCategory399Resource Management Errors
PeerOfBaseBase416Use After Free
+ Modes Of Introduction

The different Modes of Introduction provide information about how and when this weakness may be introduced. The Phase identifies a point in the software life cycle at which introduction may occur, while the Note provides a typical scenario related to introduction during the given phase.

PhaseNote
Architecture and Design
Implementation
+ Applicable Platforms
The listings below show possible areas for which the given weakness could appear. These may be for specific named Languages, Operating Systems, Architectures, Paradigms, Technologies, or a class of such platforms. The platform is listed along with how frequently the given weakness appears for that instance.

Languages

C: (Undetermined Prevalence)

C++: (Undetermined Prevalence)

+ Common Consequences

The table below specifies different individual consequences associated with the weakness. The Scope identifies the application security area that is violated, while the Impact describes the negative technical impact that arises if an adversary succeeds in exploiting this weakness. The Likelihood provides information about how likely the specific consequence is expected to be seen relative to the other consequences in the list. For example, there may be high likelihood that a weakness will be exploited to achieve a certain impact, but a low likelihood that it will be exploited to achieve a different impact.

ScopeImpactLikelihood
Integrity
Confidentiality
Availability

Technical Impact: Execute Unauthorized Code or Commands

Doubly freeing memory may result in a write-what-where condition, allowing an attacker to execute arbitrary code.
+ Alternate Terms
Double-free
+ Likelihood Of Exploit
High
+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

The following code shows a simple example of a double free vulnerability.

(bad)
Example Language:
char* ptr = (char*)malloc (SIZE);
...
if (abrt) {
free(ptr);

}
...
free(ptr);

Double free vulnerabilities have two common (and sometimes overlapping) causes:

  • Error conditions and other exceptional circumstances
  • Confusion over which part of the program is responsible for freeing the memory

Although some double free vulnerabilities are not much more complicated than the previous example, most are spread out across hundreds of lines of code or even different files. Programmers seem particularly susceptible to freeing global variables more than once.

Example 2

While contrived, this code should be exploitable on Linux distributions which do not ship with heap-chunk check summing turned on.

(bad)
Example Language:
#include <stdio.h>
#include <unistd.h>
#define BUFSIZE1 512
#define BUFSIZE2 ((BUFSIZE1/2) - 8)

int main(int argc, char **argv) {
char *buf1R1;
char *buf2R1;
char *buf1R2;
buf1R1 = (char *) malloc(BUFSIZE2);
buf2R1 = (char *) malloc(BUFSIZE2);
free(buf1R1);
free(buf2R1);
buf1R2 = (char *) malloc(BUFSIZE1);
strncpy(buf1R2, argv[1], BUFSIZE1-1);
free(buf2R1);
free(buf1R2);

}
+ Observed Examples
ReferenceDescription
Chain: Signal handler contains too much functionality (CWE-828), introducing a race condition that leads to a double free (CWE-415).
Double free resultant from certain error conditions.
Double free resultant from certain error conditions.
Double free resultant from certain error conditions.
Double free from invalid ASN.1 encoding.
Double free from malformed GIF.
Double free from malformed GIF.
Double free from malformed compressed data.
+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Architecture and Design

Choose a language that provides automatic memory management.

Phase: Implementation

Ensure that each allocation is freed only once. After freeing a chunk, set the pointer to NULL to ensure the pointer cannot be freed again. In complicated error conditions, be sure that clean-up routines respect the state of allocation properly. If the language is object oriented, ensure that object destructors delete each chunk of memory only once.

Phase: Implementation

Use a static analysis tool to find double free instances.
+ Affected Resources
  • Memory
+ Memberships
This MemberOf Relationships table shows additional CWE Categories and Views that reference this weakness as a member. This information is often useful in understanding where a weakness fits within the context of external information sources.
+ Notes

Maintenance

It could be argued that Double Free would be most appropriately located as a child of "Use after Free", but "Use" and "Release" are considered to be distinct operations within vulnerability theory, therefore this is more accurately "Release of a Resource after Expiration or Release", which doesn't exist yet.

Relationship

This is usually resultant from another weakness, such as an unhandled error or race condition between threads. It could also be primary to weaknesses such as buffer overflows.
+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
PLOVERDFREE - Double-Free Vulnerability
7 Pernicious KingdomsDouble Free
CLASPDoubly freeing memory
CERT C Secure CodingMEM00-CAllocate and free memory in the same module, at the same level of abstraction
CERT C Secure CodingMEM01-CStore a new value in pointers immediately after free()
CERT C Secure CodingMEM30-CCWE More SpecificDo not access freed memory
CERT C Secure CodingMEM31-CFree dynamically allocated memory exactly once
Software Fault PatternsSFP12Faulty Memory Release
+ References
[REF-44] Michael Howard, David LeBlanc and John Viega. "24 Deadly Sins of Software Security". "Sin 8: C++ Catastrophes." Page 143. McGraw-Hill. 2010.
[REF-62] Mark Dowd, John McDonald and Justin Schuh. "The Art of Software Security Assessment". Chapter 7, "Double Frees", Page 379.. 1st Edition. Addison Wesley. 2006.
+ Content History
Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganizationSource
PLOVER
Modifications
Modification DateModifierOrganizationSource
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigital
updated Potential_Mitigations, Time_of_Introduction
2008-08-01KDM Analytics
added/updated white box definitions
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, Common_Consequences, Description, Maintenance_Notes, Relationships, Other_Notes, Relationship_Notes, Taxonomy_Mappings
2008-11-24CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2009-05-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2009-10-29CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Other_Notes
2010-09-27CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2010-12-13CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Observed_Examples, Relationships
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences
2011-09-13CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated References, Relationships
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2015-12-07CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2017-11-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Likelihood_of_Exploit, Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings, White_Box_Definitions

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Page Last Updated: November 14, 2017