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What Is Memory Protection?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Memory protection is a strategy that makes it possible to manage the amount of access rights that are granted to the memory found on a computer hard drive. The main purpose of this type of protection is to minimize the potential for some type of storage violation that would harm the data contained in the memory, or damage a portion of the memory capacity of the hard drive. Just about all operating systems on the market today will include some provisions for memory protection.

One of the main functions of memory protection is the prevention of any application from making use of memory that the operating system has not specifically allocated to that application. This prevents applications from seizing control of an inordinate amount of memory and possibly causing damage that negatively impacts other applications that are currently in use, or even creating a loss of data that is saved on the hard drive. In many operating systems, this is managed by segmenting the memory for use by all open applications, ensuring that each has enough to operate properly without creating issues with the other running applications.

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While there is a separation of protection and security within an operating system, the use of memory protection does aid in the proper function of the security protocols inherent within the system. This means that even as the security features are attempting to prevent a bug from causing damage to data or to the files that support the operating system, the memory protection is preventing the bug from accessing a larger share of memory and creating operational issues that would slow down the security initiatives. From this perspective, memory protection serves as a valuable resource that makes it easier for the security measures to detect and deal with malicious software that may attempt to embed in the system’s files and begin using resources to carry out the mission of harming the hard drive.

Over the years, memory protection has become increasingly sophisticated. This is partly due to advances in technology that have made it possible to create hard drives with more memory capacity and the need to develop operating systems capable of supporting that increased memory. During the same period, the number of threats have also multiplied, making it necessary for operating systems to have tighter controls on how available memory is allocated to various applications. As hard drives continue to increase in capacity, newer operating systems will include more robust memory protection that aids in making sure memory management and integrity is maintained even in the face of new threats that would seek to override the defenses found in that protection.

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