thaweatherman thaweatherman - 1 year ago 113
C Question

Buffer overflow works in gdb but not without it

I am on CentOS 6.4 32 bit and am trying to cause a buffer overflow in a program. Within GDB it works. Here is the output:

[root@localhost bufferoverflow]# gdb stack
GNU gdb (GDB) Red Hat Enterprise Linux (7.2-60.el6_4.1)
Copyright (C) 2010 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
License GPLv3+: GNU GPL version 3 or later <>
This is free software: you are free to change and redistribute it.
There is NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law. Type "show copying"
and "show warranty" for details.
This GDB was configured as "i686-redhat-linux-gnu".
For bug reporting instructions, please see:
Reading symbols from /root/bufferoverflow/stack...done.
(gdb) r
Starting program: /root/bufferoverflow/stack
process 6003 is executing new program: /bin/bash
Missing separate debuginfos, use: debuginfo-install glibc-2.12-1.107.el6_4.2.i686

However when I run the program stack just on its own it seg faults. Why might this be?

Answer Source

Exploit development can lead to serious headaches if you don't adequately account for factors that introduce non-determinism into the debugging process. In particular, the stack addresses in the debugger may not match the addresses during normal execution. This artifact occurs because the operating system loader places both environment variables and program arguments before the beginning of the stack:

Process layout

Since your vulnerable program does not take any arguments, the environment variables are likely the culprit. Mare sure they are the same in both invocations, in the shell and in the debugger. To this end, you can wrap your invocation in env:

env - /path/to/stack

And with the debugger:

env - gdb /path/to/stack
($) show env

In the above example, there are two environment variables set by gdb, which you can further disable:

unset env LINES
unset env COLUMNS

Now show env should return an empty list. At this point, you can start the debugging process to find the absolute stack address you envision to jump to (e.g., 0xbffffa8b), and hardcode it into your exploit.

One further subtle but important detail: there's a difference between calling ./stack and /path/to/stack: since argv[0] holds the program exactly how you invoked it, you need to ensure equal invocation strings. That's why I used /path/to/stack in the above examples and not just ./stack and gdb stack.

When learning to exploit with memory safety vulnerabilities, I recommend to use the wrapper program below, which does the heavy lifting and ensures equal stack offsets:

$ invoke stack         # just call the executable
$ invoke -d stack      # run the executable in GDB

Here is the script:


while getopts "dte:h?" opt ; do
  case "$opt" in
      printf "usage: %s -e KEY=VALUE prog [args...]\n" $(basename $0)
      exit 0

shift $(expr $OPTIND - 1)
prog=$(readlink -f $1)
if [ -n "$gdb" ] ; then
  if [ -n "$tty" ]; then
    touch /tmp/gdb-debug-pty
    exec env - $env TERM=screen PWD=$PWD gdb -tty /tmp/gdb-debug-pty --args $prog "$@"
    exec env - $env TERM=screen PWD=$PWD gdb --args $prog "$@"
  exec env - $env TERM=screen PWD=$PWD $prog "$@"
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