Recently, as part of Professor Brumley‘s Vulnerability, Defense Systems, and Malware Analysis class at Carnegie Mellon, I took another look at Aleph One (Elias Levy)’s Smashing the Stack for Fun and Profit article which had originally appeared in Phrack and on Bugtraq in November of 1996. Newcomers to exploit development are often still referred (and rightly so) to Aleph’s paper. Smashing the Stack was the first lucid tutorial on the topic of exploiting stack based buffer overflow vulnerabilities. Perhaps even more important was Smashing the Stack‘s ability to force the reader to think like an attacker. While the specifics mentioned in the paper apply only to stack based buffer overflows, the thought process that Aleph suggested to the reader is one that will yield success in any type of exploit development.
(Un)fortunately for today’s would be exploit developer, much has changed since 1996, and unless Aleph’s tutorial is carried out with additional instructions or on a particularly old machine, some of the exercises presented in Smashing the Stack will no longer work. There are a number of reasons for this, some incidental, some intentional. I attempt to enumerate the intentional hurdles here and provide instruction for overcoming some of the challenges that fifteen years of exploit defense research has presented to the attacker. An effort is made to maintain the tutorial feel of Aleph’s article.