Variable length arrays (VLAs), a conditionally supported language feature, are essentially the same as traditional C arrays except that they are declared with a size that is not a constant integer expression and can be declared only at block scope or function prototype scope and no linkage. When supported, a variable length array can be declared
where the integer expression
size and the declaration of
vla are both evaluated at runtime. If the size argument supplied to a variable length array is not a positive integer value, the behavior is undefined. (See undefined behavior 75.) Additionally, if the magnitude of the argument is excessive, the program may behave in an unexpected way. An attacker may be able to leverage this behavior to overwrite critical program data [Griffiths 2006]. The programmer must ensure that size arguments to variable length arrays, especially those derived from untrusted data, are in a valid range.
Because variable length arrays are a conditionally supported feature of C11, their use in portable code should be guarded by testing the value of the macro
__STDC_NO_VLA__. Implementations that do not support variable length arrays indicate it by setting
__STDC_NO_VLA__ to the integer constant 1.
Noncompliant Code Example
In this noncompliant code example, a variable length array of size
size is declared. The
size is declared as
size_t in compliance with INT01-C. Use rsize_t or size_t for all integer values representing the size of an object.
However, the value of
size may be zero or excessive, potentially giving rise to a security vulnerability.
This compliant solution ensures the
size argument used to allocate
vla is in a valid range (between 1 and a programmer-defined maximum); otherwise, it uses an algorithm that relies on dynamic memory allocation. The solution also avoids unsigned integer wrapping that, given a sufficiently large value of
size, would cause
malloc to allocate insufficient storage for the array.
Noncompliant Code Example (
The following noncompliant code example defines
A to be a variable length array and then uses the
sizeof operator to compute its size at runtime. When the function is called with an argument greater than
SIZE_MAX / (N1 * sizeof (int)), the runtime
sizeof expression may wrap around, yielding a result that is smaller than the mathematical product
N1 * n2 * sizeof (int). The call to
malloc(), when successful, will then allocate storage for fewer than
n2 elements of the array, causing one or more of the final
memset() calls in the
for loop to write past the end of that storage.
Compliant Solution (
This compliant solution prevents
sizeof wrapping by detecting the condition before it occurs and avoiding the subsequent computation when the condition is detected.
Variable length arrays are not supported by Microsoft compilers.
Failure to properly specify the size of a variable length array may allow arbitrary code execution or result in stack exhaustion.
|LDRA tool suite|
|621 S||Enhanced enforcement|
Ensure the size of the variable length array is in valid range
|Polyspace Bug Finder|
Size argument to memory function is from an unsecure source
Size of the variable-length array (VLA) is from an unsecure source and may be zero, negative, or too large
|1051, 2052||Partially implemented|
Context sensitive analysis
Key here (explains table format and definitions)
|CERT C Secure Coding Standard||INT01-C. Use rsize_t or size_t for all integer values representing the size of an object||Prior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship|
|ISO/IEC TR 24772:2013||Unchecked Array Indexing [XYZ]||Prior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship|
|ISO/IEC TS 17961:2013||Tainted, potentially mutilated, or out-of-domain integer values are used in a restricted sink [taintsink]||Prior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship|
|CWE 2.11||CWE-758||2017-06-29: CERT: Rule subset of CWE|
CERT-CWE Mapping Notes
Key here for mapping notes
CWE-129 and ARR32-C
Intersection( CWE-188, EXP39-C) = Ø
ARR32-C addresses specifying the size of a variable-length array (VLA). CWE-129 addresses invalid array indices, not array sizes.
CWE-758 and ARR32-C
Independent( INT34-C, INT36-C, MSC37-C, FLP32-C, EXP33-C, EXP30-C, ERR34-C, ARR32-C)
CWE-758 = Union( ARR32-C, list) where list =
- Undefined behavior that results from anything other than too large a VLA dimension.
CWE-119 and ARR32-C
- Intersection( CWE-119, ARR32-C) = Ø
- ARR32-C is not about providing a valid buffer but reading/writing outside it. It is about providing an invalid buffer, or one that exhausts the stack.