Incorrect Decoding of Security Identifiers

The product implements a decoding mechanism to decode certain bus-transaction signals to security identifiers. If the decoding is implemented incorrectly, then untrusted agents can now gain unauthorized access to the asset.


In a System-On-Chip (SoC), various integrated circuits and hardware engines generate transactions such as to access (reads/writes) assets or perform certain actions (e.g., reset, fetch, compute, etc.). Among various types of message information, a typical transaction is comprised of source identity (to identify the originator of the transaction) and a destination identity (to route the transaction to the respective entity). Sometimes the transactions are qualified with a security identifier. The security identifier helps the destination agent decide on the set of allowed actions (e.g., access an asset for read and writes). A decoder decodes the bus transactions to map security identifiers into necessary access-controls/protections.

A common weakness that can exist in this scenario is incorrect decoding because an untrusted agent's security identifier is decoded into a trusted agent's security identifier. Thus, an untrusted agent previously without access to an asset can now gain access to the asset.


The following examples help to illustrate the nature of this weakness and describe methods or techniques which can be used to mitigate the risk.

Note that the examples here are by no means exhaustive and any given weakness may have many subtle varieties, each of which may require different detection methods or runtime controls.

Example One

Consider a system that has four bus masters and a decoder. The decoder is supposed to decode every bus transaction and assign a corresponding security identifier. The security identifier is used to determine accesses to the assets. The bus transaction that contains the security information is Bus_transaction [15:14], and the bits 15 through 14 contain the security identifier information. The table below provides bus masters as well as their security identifiers and trust assumptions:

Bus Master

Security Identifier Decoding

Trust Assumptions













The assets are the AES-Key registers for encryption or decryption. The key is 128 bits implemented as a set of four 32-bit registers. The AES_KEY_ACCESS_POLICY is used to define which agents with a security identifier in the transaction can access the AES-key registers. The size of the security identifier is 4 bits (i.e., bit 3 through 0). Each bit in these 4 bits defines a security identifier. There are only 4 security identifiers that are allowed accesses to the AES-key registers. The number of the bit when set (i.e., "1") allows respective action from an agent whose identity matches the number of the bit. If clear (i.e., "0"), disallows the respective action to that corresponding agent.


Field description


AES key [0:31] for encryption or decryption

Default 0x00000000


AES key [32:63] for encryption or decryption

Default 0x00000000


AES key [64:95] for encryption or decryption

Default 0x00000000


AES key [96:127] for encryption or decryption

Default 0x00000000


[31:4] Default 0x00000000

[3:0]-0x01 agent with Security Identified "1" has access to AES_ENC_DEC_KEY_0 through AES_ENC_DEC_KEY_3 registers

The following Pseudo code outlines the process of checking the value of the Security Identifier within the AES_KEY_ACCESS_POLICY register:

If (AES_KEY_ACCESS_POLICY[Security_Identifier] == "1")

  Allow access to AES-Key registers


  Deny access to AES-Key registers

Below is a decoder's Pseudo code that only checks for bit [14] of the bus transaction to determine what Security Identifier it must assign.

If (Bus_transaction[14] == "1")

  Security_Identifier == "1"


  Security_Identifier == "0"

The security identifier is two bits, but the decoder code above only checks the value of one bit. Two Masters have their bit 0 set to "1" - Master_1 and Master_3. Master_1 is trusted, while Master_3 is not. The code above would therefore allow an untrusted agent, Master_3, access to the AES-Key registers in addition to intended trusted Master_1.

The decoder should check for the entire size of the security identifier in the bus-transaction signal to assign a corresponding security identifier. The following is good Pseudo code:

If (Bus_transaction[15:14] == "00")

  Security_Identifier == "0"

If (Bus_transaction[15:14] == "01")

  Security_Identifier == "1"

If (Bus_transaction[15:14] == "10")

  Security_Identifier == "2"

If (Bus_transaction[15:14] == "11")

  Security_Identifier == "3"

See Also

Comprehensive Categorization: Access Control

Weaknesses in this category are related to access control.

Comprehensive CWE Dictionary

This view (slice) covers all the elements in CWE.

Weaknesses Introduced During Implementation

This view (slice) lists weaknesses that can be introduced during implementation.

Weaknesses Introduced During Design

This view (slice) lists weaknesses that can be introduced during design.

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