Often, String objects are used to contain sensitive data such as a user’s password or creditcard information. Unfortunately, String objects contain an array of characters in memory, and if some unsafe or unmanaged code is allowed to execute, the unsafe/unmanaged code could snoop around the process’s address space, locate the string containing the sensitive information, and use this data in an unauthorized way. Even if the String object is used for just a short time and then garbage collected, the CLR might not immediately reuse the String object’s memory (especially if the String object was in an older generation), leaving the String’s characters in the process’s memory, where the information could be compromised. In addition, since strings are immutable, as you manipulate them, the old copies linger in memory and you end up with different versions of the string scattered all over memory.

Some governmental departments have stringent security requirements that require very specific security guarantees. To meet these requirements, Microsoft added a more secure string class to the FCL: System.Security.SecureString. When you construct a SecureString object, it internally allocates a block of unmanaged memory that contains an array of characters. Unmanaged memory is used so that the garbage collector isn’t aware of it.

These string’s characters are encrypted, protecting the sensitive information from any malicious unsafe/unmanaged code. You can append, insert, remove, or set a character in the secure string by using any of these methods: AppendChar, InsertAt, RemoveAt, and SetAt. Whenever you call any of these methods, internally, the method decrypts the characters, performs the operation in place, and then re-encrypts the characters. This means that the characters are in an unencrypted state for a very short period of time. This also means that the performance of each operation is less than stellar, so you should perform as few of these operations as possible.

The SecureString class implements the IDisposable interface to provide an easy way to deterministically destroy the string’s secured contents. When your application no longer needs the sensitive string information, you simply call SecureString’s Dispose method. Internally, Dispose zeroes out the contents of the memory buffer to make sure that the sensitive information is not accessible to malicious code, and then the buffer is freed. In version 4 of the .NET Framework, you can pass a SecureString as a password when Working with a cryptographic service provider (CSP) – See the System.Security.Cryptography.CspParameters class. Starting a new process under a specific user account – See the System.Diagnostics.ProcessStartInfo classes Constructing an event log session. See the System.Diagnostics.Eventing.Reader.EventLogSession class. Using the System.Windows.Controls.PasswordBox control.

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