The program sourceanalyzer analyzes other programs for vulnerabilities. This is a very brief explanation of its output. For more detail, see the documentation in /usr/local/FortifySoftware/SCAS-TE/Documentation.

The Program

This C program copies a string into buffer and quits. It’s clearly a demonstration program!

#define MAX_SIZE 128

void doMemCpy(char* buf, char* in, int chars) {
  memcpy(buf, in, chars);

int main() {
  char buf[64];
  char in[MAX_SIZE];
  int bytes;

  printf("Enter buffer contents:\n");
  read(0, in, MAX_SIZE-1);
  printf("Bytes to copy:\n");
  scanf("%d", &bytes);

  doMemCpy(buf, in, bytes);

  return 0;

It has a couple of security problems, were it to be installed setuid and set so anyone could run it. Can you find them before going any further?

The Analysis

We run the sourceanalyzer program over this program, as follows:

sourceanalyzer gcc stackbuffer.c
You will have to set your search path to look in the directory /usr/local/FortifySoftware/SCAS-TE, of course. Here is the output:


[BB73F23E46159FBE5ED3C1968C046828 : low : Unchecked Return Value : semantic ]
stackbuffer.c(13) : read()

[EDACF5BD763B329C8EE8AA50F8C53D08 : high : Buffer Overflow : data flow ]
stackbuffer.c(4) :  ->memcpy(2)
    stackbuffer.c(17) :  ->doMemCpy(2)
    stackbuffer.c(15) : <- scanf(1)

The analyzer has identified two poor programming practices that may lead to security problems.

  1. The function read at line 13 returns a value that is not checked. The danger from this is low. It is a semantic problem, that is, it results from the semantics of read returning a value.
  2. On line 15 of the program, the function scanf reads something into its second argument (the first argument in a parameter list is argument 0, so argument 1 is the second one). The arrow “<-” means “input”. This quantity is than passed to the function doMemCpy as argument 2, the call occurring on line 17. The arrow “->” means “passed to”. This argument is then passed to the function memcpy on line 4, as the third argument. This means that an input number controls how many bytes memcpy copies, and if set incorrectly could cause a buffer overflow.

Potential Exploits

Given these problems, let’s see how exploits might work.

  1. Unchecked return value
    This is marked “low”, so it will be difficult to find a security flaw from it. Basically, it requires that the read system call on line 13 of stackbuffer.c either fail (hence returning −1) or fewer characters than typed. In that case, the number entered will be larger than the number of characters read, which could cause a problem. The word “semantic” means that the irregularity is from the semantics of the call (that is, no return value used).
  2. Buffer overflow
    This is marked “high” because the source code analyzer asserts it is easy to exploit. It This indicates that user input enters the program through the scanf call on line 15, which reads data into argument 1. (Arguments are 0-indexed, so argument 1 is the second argument to scanf, &bytes.) This data is then passed as argument 2 to doMemCpy, which in turn sends the data to argument 2 of memcpy. This allows a user to cause an arbitrary amount of data to be written to the 64-byte buffer buf, potentially overflowing that buffer.

Version of February 9, 2006 at 8:57
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