Common Weakness Enumeration

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CWE-762: Mismatched Memory Management Routines

Weakness ID: 762
Abstraction: Variant
Structure: Simple
Status: Incomplete
Presentation Filter:
+ Description
The application attempts to return a memory resource to the system, but it calls a release function that is not compatible with the function that was originally used to allocate that resource.
+ Extended Description

This weakness can be generally described as mismatching memory management routines, such as:

  • The memory was allocated on the stack (automatically), but it was deallocated using the memory management routine free() (CWE-590), which is intended for explicitly allocated heap memory.
  • The memory was allocated explicitly using one set of memory management functions, and deallocated using a different set. For example, memory might be allocated with malloc() in C++ instead of the new operator, and then deallocated with the delete operator.

When the memory management functions are mismatched, the consequences may be as severe as code execution, memory corruption, or program crash. Consequences and ease of exploit will vary depending on the implementation of the routines and the object being managed.

+ 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)
ChildOfBaseBase - 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.763Release of Invalid Pointer or Reference
ParentOfVariantVariant - a weakness that is linked to a certain type of product, typically involving a specific language or technology. More specific than a Base weakness. Variant level weaknesses typically describe issues in terms of 3 to 5 of the following dimensions: behavior, property, technology, language, and resource.590Free of Memory not on the Heap
+ Relevant to the view "CISQ Data Protection Measures" (CWE-1340)
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.404Improper Resource Shutdown or Release
+ 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.

+ 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.


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.


Technical Impact: Modify Memory; DoS: Crash, Exit, or Restart; Execute Unauthorized Code or Commands

+ Likelihood Of Exploit
+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

This example allocates a BarObj object using the new operator in C++, however, the programmer then deallocates the object using free(), which may lead to unexpected behavior.

(bad code)
Example Language: C++ 
void foo(){
BarObj *ptr = new BarObj()
/* do some work with ptr here */



Instead, the programmer should have either created the object with one of the malloc family functions, or else deleted the object with the delete operator.

(good code)
Example Language: C++ 
void foo(){
BarObj *ptr = new BarObj()
/* do some work with ptr here */


delete ptr;

Example 2

In this example, the program does not use matching functions such as malloc/free, new/delete, and new[]/delete[] to allocate/deallocate the resource.

(bad code)
Example Language: C++ 
class A {
void foo();
void A::foo(){
int *ptr;
ptr = (int*)malloc(sizeof(int));
delete ptr;

Example 3

In this example, the program calls the delete[] function on non-heap memory.

(bad code)
Example Language: C++ 
class A{
void foo(bool);
void A::foo(bool heap) {
int localArray[2] = {
int *p = localArray;
if (heap){
p = new int[2];
delete[] p;
+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Implementation

Only call matching memory management functions. Do not mix and match routines. For example, when you allocate a buffer with malloc(), dispose of the original pointer with free().

Phase: Implementation

Strategy: Libraries or Frameworks

Choose a language or tool that provides automatic memory management, or makes manual memory management less error-prone.

For example, glibc in Linux provides protection against free of invalid pointers.

When using Xcode to target OS X or iOS, enable automatic reference counting (ARC) [REF-391].

To help correctly and consistently manage memory when programming in C++, consider using a smart pointer class such as std::auto_ptr (defined by ISO/IEC ISO/IEC 14882:2003), std::shared_ptr and std::unique_ptr (specified by an upcoming revision of the C++ standard, informally referred to as C++ 1x), or equivalent solutions such as Boost.

Phase: Architecture and Design

Strategy: Libraries or Frameworks

Use a vetted library or framework that does not allow this weakness to occur or provides constructs that make this weakness easier to avoid.

For example, glibc in Linux provides protection against free of invalid pointers.

Phase: Architecture and Design

Use a language that provides abstractions for memory allocation and deallocation.

Phase: Testing

Use a tool that dynamically detects memory management problems, such as valgrind.
+ 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.
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.876CERT C++ Secure Coding Section 08 - Memory Management (MEM)
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1172SEI CERT C Coding Standard - Guidelines 51. Microsoft Windows (WIN)
MemberOfCategoryCategory - a CWE entry that contains a set of other entries that share a common characteristic.1237SFP Primary Cluster: Faulty Resource Release
+ Notes

Applicable Platform

This weakness is possible in any programming language that allows manual management of memory.

+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
CERT C Secure CodingWIN30-CExactProperly pair allocation and deallocation functions
Software Fault PatternsSFP12Faulty Memory Release
+ References
[REF-657] "boost C++ Library Smart Pointers". <>.
[REF-480] "Valgrind". <>.
[REF-391] iOS Developer Library. "Transitioning to ARC Release Notes". 2013-08-08. <>.
+ Content History
+ Submissions
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
2009-05-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
+ Contributions
Contribution DateContributorOrganization
2010-04-30Martin SeborCisco Systems, Inc.
Provided improvement to existing Mitigation
+ Modifications
Modification DateModifierOrganization
2009-12-28CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, Likelihood_of_Exploit
2010-06-21CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Description, Potential_Mitigations
2011-06-01CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Common_Consequences
2011-09-13CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2012-05-11CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples, Relationships
2012-10-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Potential_Mitigations
2014-02-18CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Demonstrative_Examples, Potential_Mitigations, References
2014-07-30CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships, Taxonomy_Mappings
2017-11-08CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Applicable_Platforms, References, Taxonomy_Mappings
2019-01-03CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2020-02-24CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2020-12-10CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
2021-03-15CWE Content TeamMITRE
updated Relationships
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Page Last Updated: March 15, 2021