ajd. ajd. - 10 months ago 107
C++ Question

how does one securely clear std::string?

How does one store sensitive data (ex: passwords) in std::string?

I have an application which prompts the user for a password and passes it to a downstream server during connection setup. I want to securely clear the password value after the connection has been established.

If I store the password as a

char *
array, I can use APIs like SecureZeroMemory to get rid of the sensitive data from the process memory. However, I want to avoid char arrays in my code and am looking for something similar for std::string?

thanks in advance for your time.

Answer Source

Based on the answer given here, I wrote an allocator to securely zero memory.

#include <string>
#include <windows.h>

namespace secure
  template <class T> class allocator : public std::allocator<T>

    template<class U> struct rebind { typedef allocator<U> other; };
    allocator() throw() {}
    allocator(const allocator &) throw() {}
    template <class U> allocator(const allocator<U>&) throw() {}

    void deallocate(pointer p, size_type num)
      SecureZeroMemory((void *)p, num);
      std::allocator<T>::deallocate(p, num);

  typedef std::basic_string<char, std::char_traits<char>, allocator<char> > string;

int main()
    secure::string bar("bar");
    secure::string longbar("baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar");

However, it turns out, depending on how std::string is implemented, it is possible that the allocator isn't even invoked for small values. In my code, for example, the deallocate doesn't even get called for the string bar (on Visual Studio).

The answer, then, is that we cannot use std::string to store sensitive data. Of course, we have the option to write a new class that handles the use case, but I was specifically interested in using std::string as defined.

Thanks everyone for your help!