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CWE-1209: Failure to Disable Reserved Bits

Weakness ID: 1209
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
Status: Incomplete
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The reserved bits in a hardware design are not disabled prior to production. Typically, reserved bits are used for future capabilities and should not support any functional logic in the design. However, designers might covertly use these bits to debug or further develop new capabilities in production hardware. Adversaries with access to these bits will write to them in hopes of compromising hardware state.
+ Extended Description

Reserved bits are labeled as such so they can be allocated for a later purpose. They are not to do anything in the current design. However, designers might want to use these bits to debug or control/configure a future capability to help minimize time to market (TTM). If the logic being controlled by these bits is still enabled in production, an adversary could use the logic to induce unwanted/unsupported behavior in the hardware.

+ 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)
ChildOfPillarPillar - a weakness that is the most abstract type of weakness and represents a theme for all class/base/variant weaknesses related to it. A Pillar is different from a Category as a Pillar is still technically a type of weakness that describes a mistake, while a Category represents a common characteristic used to group related things.710Improper Adherence to Coding Standards
+ Relevant to the view "Hardware Design" (CWE-1194)
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1199General Circuit and Logic Design Concerns
+ 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 life cycle at which introduction may occur, while the Note provides a typical scenario related to introduction during the given phase.

Architecture and DesignThe Designer and Implementer have to make a conscious choice to do this
ImplementationThe Designer and Implementer have to make a conscious choice to do this
DocumentationIf documentation labels anything "for future use", "reserved", or the like, such labeling could indicate to an attacker a potential attack point
+ 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.


Class: Language-Independent (Undetermined Prevalence)

Operating Systems

Class: OS-Independent (Undetermined Prevalence)


Class: Architecture-Independent (Undetermined Prevalence)


Class: System on Chip (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.

Access Control

Technical Impact: Varies by Context

This type of weakness all depends on the capabilities of the logic being controlled or configured by the reserved bits
+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

An adversary may perform writes to reserve space in hopes to change the behavior of the hardware.

(bad code)
Example Language: Other 
// Assume an IP has address space 0x0-0x0F for its configuration registers, with the last one labeled reserved (i.e. 0x0F). Therefore inside the Finite State Machine (FSM), the code is as follows:

reg gpio_out = 0; //gpio should remain low for normal operation

case (register_address)
4'b1111 : //0x0F
gpio_out = 1;

In the code above, the GPIO pin should remain low for normal operation. However, it can be asserted by accessing the reserved address space (0x0F). This may be a concern if the GPIO state is being used as an indicator of health (e.g. if asserted the hardware may respond by shutting down or resetting the system which may not be the correct action the system should perform).

reg gpio_out = 0; //gpio should remain low for normal operation
case (register_address)
//4'b1111 : //0x0F
default: gpio_out = gpio_out;
+ Potential Mitigations

Phases: Architecture and Design; Implementation

Include a feature disable

Phase: Integration

Any writes to these reserve bits are blocked (e.g., ignored, access-protected, etc.), or an exception can be asserted.

+ Content History
+ Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
2020-02-06Brent ShermanIntel Corporation
+ Modifications
Modification DateModifierOrganization
2020-08-20CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Related_Attack_Patterns
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Page Last Updated: March 15, 2021