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CWE-1231: Improper Implementation of Lock Protection Registers

Weakness ID: 1231
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
Status: Incomplete
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The product incorrectly implements register lock bit protection features such that protected controls can be programmed even after the lock has been set.
+ Extended Description

In integrated circuits and hardware IPs, device configuration controls are commonly programmed after a device power reset by a trusted firmware or software module (e.g., BIOS/bootloader) and then locked from any further modification. This is commonly implemented using a trusted lock bit, which when set disables writes to a protected set of registers or address regions. Design or coding errors in the implementation of the lock bit protection feature may allow the lock bit to be modified or cleared by software after being set to unlock the system.

+ 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.284Improper Access Control
+ 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 DesignSuch issues could be introduced during hardware architecture and design and identified later during Testing or System Configuration phases.
ImplementationSuch issues could be introduced during implementation and identified later during Testing or System Configuration phases.
+ 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: Technology-Independent (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: Modify Memory

Registers protected by lock bit can be modified even when lock is set.
+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

Consider the example design below or a digital thermal sensor used in the design to detect overheating of the silicon and trigger system shutdown. The system critical temperature limit (CRITICAL_TEMP_LIMIT) and thermal sensor calibration (TEMP_SENSOR_CALIB) data have to be programmed by firmware and then the register needs to be locked (TEMP_SENSOR_LOCK).

(bad code)
Example Language: Other 
Register Field description
CRITICAL_TEMP_LIMIT [31:8] Reserved field; Read only; Default 0
[7:0] Critical temp 0-255 Centigrade; Read-write-lock; Default 125
TEMP_SENSOR_CALIB [31:0] Thermal sensor calibration data. Slope value used to map sensor reading to degree Centigrade.
TEMP_SENSOR_LOCK [31:1] Reserved field; Read only; Default 0
[0] Lock bit, locks CRITICAL_TEMP_LIMIT and TEMP_SENSOR_CALIB registers; Write-1-once; Default 0
TEMP_HW_SHUTDOWN [31:2] Reserved field; Read only; Default 0
[1] Enable hardware shutdown on critical temperature detection; Read-write; Default 0
CURRENT_TEMP [31:8] Reserved field; Read only; Default 0
[7:0] Current Temp 0-255 Centigrade; Read-only; Default 0

In this example note that the response of the system if the system heats to critical temperature is controlled by TEMP_HW_SHUTDOWN bit [1], which is not lockable. Thus, the intended security property of the critical temperature sensor cannot be fully protected,since software can misconfigure the TEMP_HW_SHUTDOWN register even after the lock bit is set to disable the shutdown response.


Change TEMP_HW_SHUTDOWN field to be locked by TEMP_SENSOR_LOCK.

TEMP_HW_SHUTDOWN [31:2] Reserved field; Read only; Default 0
[1] Enable hardware shutdown on critical temperature detection; Read-write-Lock; Default 0
[0] Locked by TEMP_SENSOR_LOCK
+ Potential Mitigations

Phases: Architecture and Design; Implementation; Testing

  • Security lock bit protections must be reviewed for design inconsistency and common weaknesses.
  • Security lock programming flow and lock properties must be tested in pre-silicon, post-silicon testing.

Effectiveness: High

+ Content History
+ Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
2020-01-15Arun Kanuparthi, Hareesh Khattri, Parbati Kumar Manna, Narasimha Kumar V MangipudiIntel Corporation
+ Modifications
Modification DateModifierOrganization
2020-06-25CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples
2020-08-20CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Related_Attack_Patterns
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Page Last Updated: March 15, 2021