Understanding the Dangers of Buffer Overflow Attacks
Since the introduction of the Internet, users have faced cyberthreats of many different varieties. However, in the last decade, there has been a frontrunner in cyberattacks: buffer overflow attacks. Hackers discovered that programs could be easily accessed and manipulated through buffer overflow vulnerabilities, and these attacks became a common cyberthreat. To really understand the problem with buffer overflow attacks and their implications, you must first get a grasp of buffer overflow vulnerabilities.
What is a buffer overflow vulnerability?
Picture a temporary storage unit used to hold your extra stuff when you are moving. Your storage unit is only capable of holding so many things before it fills up and your personal items begin to tumble out and cause problems for everyone else in the storage facility. The same goes for buffers. They are designed to hold a small amount of data, and when they reach capacity, bits of the data being transferred may be forced out onto another buffer, which may corrupt the data that is currently in that buffer. The vulnerability exists when a program or process is not designed to sort data accordingly into buffers without creating overflow.
Why are buffer overflow vulnerabilities cyberthreats?
According to an article by the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science & Technology’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering, “buffer overflow vulnerabilities dominate in the area of remote network penetration vulnerabilities, where an anonymous Internet user seeks to gain partial or total control of a host.” According to Tech Target, hackers will often insert extra data encoded with specific instructions. This extra data floods the buffers, causing an overage and compromising the integrity of the original data. The implemented data has now infiltrated the majority of the buffers, giving the hacker the capability to access other files on the network, manipulate programming or delete important data. Many cyberexperts believe that buffer overflow attacks are so common because they are comparatively simple to carry out and difficult to trace.
Defenses against buffer overflow attack
Though program vulnerability sometimes slip by unnoticed until an attack is made, the following are several precursory defensive steps security programmers can take to prevent a buffer overflow attack.
-Pay close attention when writing code:
Computer code writers often get in a rhythm that can lead to mistakes. Take frequent breaks when writing code, especially when working with a C series program, to avoid making penetrable mistakes. It is always a good idea to check over your code several times and ask for an extra glance from another coder to correct preventable buffer overflow vulnerabilities.
-Program non-executable buffers:
This type of buffer prevents corrupted data from being able to perform its nefarious attacks. Some types of non-executable buffers may limit program compatibility, but there are many that will not interfere with universality and will still protect the program’s integrity. These include GCC Trampolines and signal delivery.
-Array bounds checking:
This form of range checking can sense variabilities in the system’s programming and processes. If an array bounds check detects an altered segment of data, it will stop the program completely, preventing the corrupted data from enacting its mal-intended processes.
You can learn more about the implications of buffer overflow attacks by tuning into the National Cybersecurity Institute’s webinar entitled, “Buffer Overflows – Wreaking Havoc with Stack Corruption.” Buffer overflows are just like old filing systems. When a container got too full, the contents would spill out. Though program vulnerability sometimes slip by unnoticed until an attack is made, there are several precursory defensive steps security programmers can take to prevent a buffer overflow attack.
Because buffer overflow attacks are so common, it is crucial that information security professionals are informed about them and how to defend their networks from the threat. Educational facilities like the National Cybersecurity Institute offer programs and degree courses that can train people to handle cyberthreats like these and many more.