Common Weakness Enumeration

A Community-Developed List of Software Weakness Types

CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Software Errors
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CWE-788: Access of Memory Location After End of Buffer

Weakness ID: 788
Abstraction: Base
Status: Incomplete
Presentation Filter:
+ Description

Description Summary

The software reads or writes to a buffer using an index or pointer that references a memory location after the end of the buffer.

Extended Description

This typically occurs when a pointer or its index is incremented to a position after the buffer, when pointer arithmetic results in a position after the end of the valid memory location, or when a large, positive index is used that is after the boundary of the buffer. These problems may be resultant from trusting a user-influenced input length variable.

+ Common Consequences

Technical Impact: Read memory

For an out-of-bounds read, the attacker may have access to sensitive information. If the sensitive information contains system details, such as the current buffers position in memory, this knowledge can be used to craft further attacks, possibly with more severe consequences.


Technical Impact: Modify memory; DoS: crash / exit / restart

Out of bounds memory access will very likely result in the corruption of relevant memory, and perhaps instructions, possibly leading to a crash. Other attacks leading to lack of availability are possible, including putting the program into an infinite loop.

Technical Impact: Modify memory; Execute unauthorized code or commands

If the memory accessible by the attacker can be effectively controlled, it may be possible to execute arbitrary code, as with a standard buffer overflow. If the attacker can overwrite a pointer's worth of memory (usually 32 or 64 bits), he can redirect a function pointer to his own malicious code. Even when the attacker can only modify a single byte arbitrary code execution can be possible. Sometimes this is because the same problem can be exploited repeatedly to the same effect. Other times it is because the attacker can overwrite security-critical application-specific data -- such as a flag indicating whether the user is an administrator.

+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

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.

(Bad Code)
Example Language:
void host_lookup(char *user_supplied_addr){
struct hostent *hp;
in_addr_t *addr;
char hostname[64];
in_addr_t inet_addr(const char *cp);

/*routine that ensures user_supplied_addr is in the right format for conversion */
addr = inet_addr(user_supplied_addr);
hp = gethostbyaddr( addr, sizeof(struct in_addr), AF_INET);
strcpy(hostname, hp->h_name);

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 we may overwrite sensitive data or even relinquish control flow to the attacker.

Note that this example also contains an unchecked return value (CWE-252) that can lead to a NULL pointer dereference (CWE-476).

Example 2

In the following example, it is possible to request that memcpy move a much larger segment of memory than assumed:

(Bad Code)
Example Language:
int returnChunkSize(void *) {
/* if chunk info is valid, return the size of usable memory,
* else, return -1 to indicate an error
int main() {
memcpy(destBuf, srcBuf, (returnChunkSize(destBuf)-1));

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).

Example 3

This example applies an encoding procedure to an input string and stores it into a buffer.

(Bad Code)
Example Language:
char * copy_input(char *user_supplied_string){
int i, dst_index;
char *dst_buf = (char*)malloc(4*sizeof(char) * MAX_SIZE);
if ( MAX_SIZE <= strlen(user_supplied_string) ){
die("user string too long, die evil hacker!");
dst_index = 0;
for ( i = 0; i < strlen(user_supplied_string); i++ ){
if( '&' == user_supplied_string[i] ){
dst_buf[dst_index++] = '&';
dst_buf[dst_index++] = 'a';
dst_buf[dst_index++] = 'm';
dst_buf[dst_index++] = 'p';
dst_buf[dst_index++] = ';';
else if ('<' == user_supplied_string[i] ){
/* encode to &lt; */
else dst_buf[dst_index++] = user_supplied_string[i];
return dst_buf;

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.

Example 4

In the following C/C++ example the method processMessageFromSocket() will get a message from a socket, placed into a buffer, and will parse the contents of the buffer into a structure that contains the message length and the message body. A for loop is used to copy the message body into a local character string which will be passed to another method for processing.

(Bad Code)
Example Languages: C and C++ 
int processMessageFromSocket(int socket) {
int success;

char buffer[BUFFER_SIZE];
char message[MESSAGE_SIZE];

// get message from socket and store into buffer
//Ignoring possibliity that buffer > BUFFER_SIZE
if (getMessage(socket, buffer, BUFFER_SIZE) > 0) {

// place contents of the buffer into message structure
ExMessage *msg = recastBuffer(buffer);

// copy message body into string for processing
int index;
for (index = 0; index < msg->msgLength; index++) {
message[index] = msg->msgBody[index];
message[index] = '\0';

// process message
success = processMessage(message);
return success;

However, the message length variable from the structure is used as the condition for ending the for loop without validating that the message length variable accurately reflects the length of message body. This can result in a buffer over read by reading from memory beyond the bounds of the buffer if the message length variable indicates a length that is longer than the size of a message body (CWE-130).

+ Observed Examples
Classic stack-based buffer overflow in media player using a long entry in a playlist
Heap-based buffer overflow in media player using a long entry in a playlist
large precision value in a format string triggers overflow
attacker-controlled array index leads to code execution
OS kernel trusts userland-supplied length value, allowing reading of sensitive information
Chain: integer signedness passes signed comparison, leads to heap overflow
+ Relationships
NatureTypeIDNameView(s) this relationship pertains toView(s)
ChildOfWeakness ClassWeakness Class119Improper Restriction of Operations within the Bounds of a Memory Buffer
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ParentOfWeakness VariantWeakness Variant121Stack-based Buffer Overflow
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ParentOfWeakness VariantWeakness Variant122Heap-based Buffer Overflow
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ParentOfWeakness VariantWeakness Variant126Buffer Over-read
Development Concepts (primary)699
Research Concepts (primary)1000
MemberOfViewView884CWE Cross-section
CWE Cross-section (primary)884
+ Content History
Submission DateSubmitterOrganizationSource
2009-10-21MITREInternal CWE Team
Modification DateModifierOrganizationSource
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Common_Consequences
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Common_Consequences, Demonstrative_Examples, Observed_Examples, Relationships
2013-02-21CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2014-06-23CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2015-12-07CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Description

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Page Last Updated: January 18, 2017