Hardware Logic Contains Race Conditions

A race condition in the hardware logic results in undermining security guarantees of the system.


Description

A race condition in logic circuits typically occurs when a logic gate gets inputs from signals that have traversed different paths while originating from the same source. Such inputs to the gate can change at slightly different times in response to a change in the source signal. This results in a timing error or a glitch (temporary or permanent) that causes the output to change to an unwanted state before settling back to the desired state. If such timing errors occur in access control logic or finite state machines that are implemented in security sensitive flows, an attacker might exploit them to circumvent existing protections.

Demonstrations

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

The code below shows a 2x1 multiplexor using logic gates. Though the code shown below results in the minimum gate solution, it is disjoint and causes glitches.

// 2x1 Multiplexor using logic-gates

module glitchEx(

  input wire in0, in1, sel,
  output wire z

);

wire not_sel;
wire and_out1, and_out2;

assign not_sel = ~sel;
assign and_out1 = not_sel & in0;
assign and_out2 = sel & in1;

// Buggy line of code:
assign z = and_out1 | and_out2; // glitch in signal z

endmodule

The buggy line of code, commented above, results in signal 'z' periodically changing to an unwanted state. Thus, any logic that references signal 'z' may access it at a time when it is in this unwanted state. This line should be replaced with the line shown below in the Good Code Snippet which results in signal 'z' remaining in a continuous, known, state. Reference for the above code, along with waveforms for simulation can be found in the references below.

assign z <= and_out1 or and_out2 or (in0 and in1);

This line of code removes the glitch in signal z.

See Also

General Circuit and Logic Design Concerns

Weaknesses in this category are related to hardware-circuit design and logic (e.g., CMOS transistors, finite state machines, and registers) as well as issues related t...

Comprehensive CWE Dictionary

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

Weaknesses without Software Fault Patterns

CWE identifiers in this view are weaknesses that do not have associated Software Fault Patterns (SFPs), as covered by the CWE-888 view. As such, they represent gaps in...

Weaknesses Introduced During Implementation

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


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