How To Protect from Heap Overflows

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Heap overflows are usually just as dangerous as stack overflows. Besides important user data, heap overflows can be used to overwrite function pointers that may be living in memory, pointing it to the attacker’s code. Even in applications that do not explicitly use function pointers, the run-time will usually leave many in memory. For example, object methods in C++ are generally implemented using function pointers. Even in C programs, there is often a global offset table used by the underlying runtime.

  • Pre-design: Use a language or compiler that performs automatic bounds checking.
  • Design: Use an abstraction library to abstract away risky APIs. Not a complete solution.
  • Pre-design through Build: Compiler-based canary mechanisms such as StackGuard, ProPolice and the Microsoft Visual Studio /GS flag. Unless this provides automatic bounds checking, it is not a complete solution.
  • Implementation: Check heap buffer boundaries before copy or concatenation.
  • Operational: Use OS-level preventative functionality. Not a complete solution.
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