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Buffer overflow vulnerabilities can be effectively prevented with the right set of runtime checks Consider using a safer programming language, such as Java or a safe C dialect These languages shift the burden of preventing buffer overflow vulnerabilities off of the programmer and onto the language Short of a different language, compiler enhancements and virtual execution environments can detect or defuse some buffer overflow attacks, but they don't solve the problem Although compiler enhancements and virtual execution environments won t make a vulnerable program safe, they do raise the bar on attackers and prevent many common exploits
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ecurity problems often begin with an attacker nding a way to violate a programmer s expectations In general, programmers give less thought to error conditions and abnormal situations than they do to the expected case, which makes errors and exceptions a natural path for attackers to follow In this chapter, we consider the security implications of common error and exception handling scenarios Most of the mistakes discussed in this chapter do not lead directly to exploitable vulnerabilities the way buffer over ow or SQL injection does Instead, they provide the conditions necessary for a later security failure More often than not, the language a program is written in dictates the approach the program uses for detecting and handling unexpected conditions C uses error codes provided as function return values Java uses checked exceptions C++ uses a combination of return values and unchecked exceptions Regardless of the approach, bad error handling often leads to resource leaks It s also common for error handling code to lead to problems with logging or debugging facilities We address these topics as follows: Handling errors with return codes At rst blush, it doesn t sound like such a bad idea to use a function s return value to communicate success or failure, but a number of complications ensue, and the result is often absent or incomplete error handling Managing exceptions Exceptions make error handling easier to get right They also make it easier to see when error handling is being done poorly
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Preventing resource leaks Resource leaks can appear anywhere in a program, but they occur most often when the program experiences an error or unexpected condition Logging and debugging A good strategy for logging and debugging can make identifying, handling, and recovering from errors easier Poor logging practices and unsafe debug code can leave an application vulnerable to attack
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It s a straightforward idea to use the return value of a function to communicate success or failure, but this approach comes along with a number of unappetizing side effects: It makes it easy to ignore errors simply ignore a function s return value Connecting error information with the code for handling the error makes programs harder to read Error handling logic is interspersed with logic for handling expected cases, which increases the temptation to ignore errors There is no universal convention for communicating error information, so programmers must research the error handling mechanism for each function they call It s worth noting that these are some of the reasons that the designers of C++ and Java included exceptions as a language feature Checking Return Values in C In Example 81, the programmer expects that when fgets() returns, buf will contain a null-terminated string of length 9 or less But if an I/O error occurs, fgets() will not null-terminate buf Furthermore, if the end of the le is reached before any characters are read, fgets() will return without writing anything to buf In both of these situations, fgets() signals that something unusual has happened by returning NULL, but in this code, the warning will not be noticed because the return value of fgets() is ignored The lack of a null terminator in buf can result in a buffer over ow in the subsequent call to strcpy()
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