Common Weakness Enumeration

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CWE-1261: Improper Handling of Single Event Upsets

Weakness ID: 1261
Abstraction: Base
Structure: Simple
Status: Draft
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The hardware logic does not effectively handle when single-event upsets (SEUs) occur.
+ Extended Description

Technology trends such as CMOS-transistor down-sizing, use of new materials, and system-on-chip architectures continue to increase the sensitivity of systems to soft errors. These errors are random, and their causes might be internal (e.g., interconnect coupling) or external (e.g., cosmic radiation). These soft errors are not permanent in nature and cause temporary bit flips known as single-event upsets (SEUs). SEUs are induced errors in circuits caused when charged particles lose energy by ionizing the medium through which they pass, leaving behind a wake of electron-hole pairs that cause temporary failures. If these failures occur in security-sensitive modules in a chip, it might compromise the security guarantees of the chip. For instance, these temporary failures could be bit flips that change the privilege of a regular user to root.

+ 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)
ChildOfClassClass - a weakness that is described in a very abstract fashion, typically independent of any specific language or technology. More specific than a Pillar Weakness, but more general than a Base Weakness. Class level weaknesses typically describe issues in terms of 1 or 2 of the following dimensions: behavior, property, and resource.755Improper Handling of Exceptional Conditions
PeerOfBaseBase - a weakness that is still mostly independent of a resource or technology, but with sufficient details to provide specific methods for detection and prevention. Base level weaknesses typically describe issues in terms of 2 or 3 of the following dimensions: behavior, property, technology, language, and resource.1254Incorrect Comparison Logic Granularity
+ 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 Design
+ 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: DoS: Crash, Exit, or Restart; DoS: Instability; Gain Privileges or Assume Identity; Bypass Protection Mechanism

+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

This is an example from [REF-1089]. See the reference for full details of this issue.

Parity is error detecting but not error correcting.

(bad code)
Example Language: Other 
Due to single-event upsets, bits are flipped in memories. As a result, memory-parity checks fail, which results in restart and a temporary denial of service of two to three minutes.
(good code)
Example Language: Other 
Using error-correcting codes could have avoided the restart caused by SEUs.

Example 2

In 2016, a security researcher, who was also a patient using a pacemaker, was on an airplane when a bit flip occurred in the pacemaker, likely due to the higher prevalence of cosmic radiation at such heights. The pacemaker was designed to account for bit flips and went into a default safe mode, which still forced the patient to go to a hospital to get it reset. The bit flip also inadvertently enabled the researcher to access the crash file, perform reverse engineering, and detect a hard-coded key. [REF-1101]

+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Architecture and Design

Implement triple-modular redundancy around security-sensitive modules.

Phase: Architecture and Design

SEUs mostly affect SRAMs. For SRAMs storing security-critical data, implement Error-Correcting-Codes (ECC) and Address Interleaving.

+ References
[REF-1086] Fan Wang and Vishwani D. Agrawal. "Single Event Upset: An Embedded Tutorial". <>.
[REF-1087] P. D. Bradley and E. Normand. "Single Event Upsets in Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators". <>.
[REF-1088] Melanie Berg, Kenneth LaBel and Jonathan Pellish. "Single Event Effects in FPGA Devices 2015-2016". <>.
[REF-1089] Cisco. "Cisco 12000 Single Event Upset Failures Overview and Work Around Summary". <>.
[REF-1090] Cypress. "Different Ways to Mitigate Soft Errors in Asynchronous SRAMs - KBA90939". <>.
[REF-1091] Ian Johnston. "Cosmic particles can change elections and cause plans to fall through the sky, scientists warn". <>.
[REF-1101] Anders B. Wilhelmsen, Eivind S. Kristiansen and Marie Moe. "The Hard-coded Key to my Heart - Hacking a Pacemaker Programmer". 2019-08-10. <>.
+ Content History
+ Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
2020-02-12Arun Kanuparthi, Hareesh Khattri, Parbati Kumar Manna, Narasimha Kumar V MangipudiIntel Corporation
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Page Last Updated: March 15, 2021