Talk:Privilege level

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I took the liberty to create Current_privilege_level, change all relevant CPL links to it and redirect it to this page. If I missed any please fix them... Kreca 15:22, 24 August 2006 (UTC)

Look out for possible copyright violations in this article[edit]

This article has been found to be edited by students of the Wikipedia:India Education Program project as part of their (still ongoing) course-work. Unfortunately, many of the edits in this program so far have been identified as plain copy-jobs from books and online resources and therefore had to be reverted. See the India Education Program talk page for details. In order to maintain the WP standards and policies, let's all have a careful eye on this and other related articles to ensure that no material violating copyrights remains in here. --Matthiaspaul (talk) 12:49, 31 October 2011 (UTC)

Material moved here from article[edit]

I have moved the following material here because it is largely unsourced; see WT:IEP for the background to this. Because the material is formatted with section headers, I have placed it in a collapse template. Mike Christie (talk - contribs - library) 21:28, 31 October 2011 (UTC)

Extended content


The basic idea of using privilege levels is to ensure the safety and integrity of the most sensitive data and to prevent easy access to such data.

The Intel 80286 was the first micro-controller to incorporate measures of data protection and security. It did so by implementing the dual concepts of Protected Mode and Privilege Levels.

The protected mode could be entered by setting the Protection Enable bit of the Machine Status Word[1] and concerns itself with the data itself. The privilege level is a designation associated with tasks and defines whether a given tack can perform predefined actions - the actions themselves being set by other tasks. It is important to note here that the whole concept of tasks with their associated privilege levels only exist in the protected mode. Outside of the protected mode, there is no meaning to the concept of a privilege level. For example, the 80296 in the real mode, is nothing but a pipelined version of the 8086.

All operations on the 80286 occur by means of tasks. A task is initiated by accessing the Task State Segment, which defines the privilege level of the task to be run. This privilege level is the Current Privilege Level. Once the CPL is assigned for a task, it cannot be altered for the duration of its execution[2].

Once the task begins execution, it may at - various points of time - require to access other blocks of information. This access will be allowed only if the CPL of task satisfies the requirements of the DPL of the concerned block. The requirements are as mentioned above.

Today, the ringed privilege system is extremely widespread. It can be found on a large number of computer systems along with other micro-controllers such as the ARM SAM7X series.

Privilege Validation[edit]

Tasks are given access to various descriptors on the basis of the type of the descriptor and the associated privilege levels(Current, Requested and Descriptor). The privilege levels allow the processor to control access to descriptors and hence to the corresponding memory segments. These privilege checks provide data protection and prevent any unauthorized access to data or code. Segment access occur in two principal ways:

Data Segment Access[edit]

Certain instructions that load the data, code or extra segments with selectors come under Data Segment Access. The SS register is always loaded with selectors that point to writable data segment descriptors. If the descriptor is to successfully accessed by the task, the corresponding DPL must be lower than or equal to the CPL or the RPL. In the case of the loaded SS register, the CPL and RPL must be the same as the DPL to prevent stack data from being incorrectly referenced. If this check fails, exception 13 is executed.The only exception to this is for the reading confirming code segment can be read from any privilege level.

Two other exceptions can be generated by Data Segment Access:

  • If the stack data segment that has to pointer to is not present in the physical memory, exception 12 is generated.
  • In general, if the required data segment is not present, exception 11 is generated.

Control Transfer Access[edit]

If a selector is to be loaded into the CS, the following individual cases can occur, assuming that the descriptor being pointed to by the selector is valid. If it isn't, exception 11 is generated.

  • Using a CALL or JMP instructions: The concerned code segment descriptor must have a DPL greater than or equal to the CPL if the descriptor is a conforming descriptor. The DPL of the descriptor must be exactly equal to the CPL if the desciptor is non-conforming. The RPL of the selector must be the same as the CPL of the task.
  • Using the RET or IRET instructions: For these instructions to run without generating exceptions, the DPL of the descriptor must be either equal to or lower than the CPL of the task that is being returned to. Once the flow of control has returned from the sub-program the RPL of the selector becomes the CPL. In case the CPL does change, the old Stack Pointer is popped after the return address.
  • TSS Descriptor is referenced: If the JMP or CALL instructions refer to a Task State Segment(TSS), the associated DPL needs to be lower than or equal to the CPL of the task. If DPL>CPL, exception 13 is generated, otherwise the task is switched.
  • Gate Descriptor is referenced: As above, the DPL needs to be lower than or equal to the CPL of the task. Additionally, if the destination in the gate descriptor references a Code Segment descriptor, then the DPL of the CS descriptor needs to be greater than or equal to the task CPL. If the destination of the gate descriptors points to a TSS, a task switch is automatically performed, as long as the conditions mentioned above are satisfied.

In both cases, if the necessary conditions between the CPL and DPL are not satisfied, then exception 13 is generated.

  • The I/O based privileged instructions are executed only if CPL<=IOPL in EFLAGS register. To secure this bit, the POPF/POPFD instructions which load values into the EFLAGS register shall not touch the IOPL bit or IF bit if CPL>0.

Changing Privilege Level[edit]

A task may need to change its privilege level during control transfers such as those encountered due to CALL or JUMP instructions. The privilege level can be altered by using confirming code segment or by call gates. A confirming code segment confirms with privilege level calling segment (specified by the 'Confirming' bit in code segment descriptor). For example, if there is control transfer from segment A to confirming segment B then, the privilege level of B would be the privilege level of A.

Areas With Privilege Levels[edit]

OS routines, interrupt handlers and a large number of other tasks can have privilege levels applied to them to improve security. They fall under three main categories:

I've blanked some of this material closely paraphrased/copied from the Intel Datasheet. Danger High voltage! 12:23, 25 December 2011 (UTC)

Only in x86?[edit]

This article only mentions A privilege level in the x86 instruction set, not the general concept. How does a privilege level differ from a ring? (talk) 00:21, 10 November 2011 (UTC)

  1. ^ "The Intel 80286 Datasheet" (PDF). 
  2. ^ A. K. Ray, K. M. Bhurchandi, "Advanced Microprocessors and Peripherals", Second Edition, Tata McGraw-Hill, 2009