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What Is Memory Corruption?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Memory corruption is a computer problem where a programming error generates an issue with the memory. When the user attempts to access the memory, the computer can behave strangely as it attempts to process the information. This can occur as a result of user errors, viruses, or glitches in a program or operating system. Users can apply various techniques to address this problem.

Computers rely on segmented memory to store information, using pointers to tell the operating system where to look for data. Sometimes the error that causes memory corruption is not immediately apparent, and this can lead to a situation where the user doesn't identify the problem until much later. She might save a file normally and go to open it several weeks later, only to discover that the computer cannot find it.

Errors can occur when memory moves, the user exceeds the buffer, or programs get confused about where to store information. When the computer encounters the memory corruption, several kinds of errors can occur. A program might begin to behave oddly, or could freeze because it does not know how to get to the necessary information. The computer may also return a specific error message related to the problem and ask the user to address the issue before attempting the command that triggered the error again.

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Sometimes the memory corruption is the result of malicious code or a deliberate attack on a computer system. Operating systems and programs can have vulnerabilities, and a programmer may exploit these with code intended to create memory corruption. This may be done to sabotage a system or leave it open to access so a hacker can reach information that would normally be secure. The corruption can be costly to fix, and may render the system unusable until a technical professional can identify and repair the problem.

Information technology specialists can look into memory corruption and determine how to address the issue. This may require reformatting, making changes to the registry, or taking other actions. The cost for repairs depends on the nature of the error, the size of the system, and the root cause. If the cause is a recurring issue, the technician will need to address it before fixing the memory, and this could make the fix more expensive.

Developers who design and test new software must think about memory corruption as part of their work. They routinely test products in development and ask beta testers to do the same as the project gets closer to completion. The testers will engage in activities to break or confuse the program, and take note of the errors they encounter. If it is possible to generate errors through a user action, the developers will need to fix it.

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