Improper Protections Against Hardware Overheating

A hardware device is missing or has inadequate protection features to prevent overheating.


Hardware, electrical circuits, and semiconductor silicon have thermal side effects, such that some of the energy consumed by the device gets dissipated as heat and increases the temperature of the device. For example, in semiconductors, higher-operating frequency of silicon results in higher power dissipation and heat. The leakage current in CMOS circuits increases with temperature, and this creates positive feedback that can result in thermal runaway and damage the device permanently.

Any device lacking protections such as thermal sensors, adequate platform cooling, or thermal insulation is susceptible to attacks by malicious software that might deliberately operate the device in modes that result in overheating. This can be used as an effective denial of service (DoS) or permanent denial of service (PDoS) attack.

Depending on the type of hardware device and its expected usage, such thermal overheating can also cause safety hazards and reliability issues. Note that battery failures can also cause device overheating but the mitigations and examples included in this submission cannot reliably protect against a battery failure.

There can be similar weaknesses with lack of protection from attacks based on overvoltage or overcurrent conditions. However, thermal heat is generated by hardware operation and the device should implement protection from overheating.


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

Malicious software running on a core can execute instructions that consume maximum power or increase core frequency. Such a power-virus program could execute on the platform for an extended time to overheat the device, resulting in permanent damage.

Execution core and platform do not support thermal sensors, performance throttling, or platform-cooling countermeasures to ensure that any software executing on the system cannot cause overheating past the maximum allowable temperature.

The platform and SoC should have failsafe thermal limits that are enforced by thermal sensors that trigger critical temperature alerts when high temperature is detected. Upon detection of high temperatures, the platform should trigger cooling or shutdown automatically.

See Also

Comprehensive Categorization: Protection Mechanism Failure

Weaknesses in this category are related to protection mechanism failure.

ICS Dependencies (& Architecture): External Physical Systems

Weaknesses in this category are related to the "External Physical Systems" category from the SEI ETF "Categories of Security Vulnerabilities in ICS" as published in Ma...

Power, Clock, Thermal, and Reset Concerns

Weaknesses in this category are related to system power, voltage, current, temperature, clocks, system state saving/restoring, and resets at the platform and SoC level.

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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