Buffer overflows. In most information technology circles these days, the term buffer overflows has become synonymous with vulnerabilities or in some cases, exploits. It is not only a scary word that can keep you up at night wondering if you purchased the best firewalls, configured your new host-based intrusion prevention system correctly, and have patched your entire environment, but can enter the security water-cooler discussions faster than McAfee’s new wicked anti-virus software or Symantec’s latest acquisition. Buffer overflows are proof that the computer science, or software programming, community still does not have an understanding (or, more importantly, firm knowledge) of how to design, create, and implement secure code.
Like it or not, all buffer overflows are a product of poorly constructed software programs.These programs may have multiple deficiencies such as stack overflows, heap corruption, format string bugs, and race conditions—the first three commonly being referred to as simply buffer overflows. Buffer overflows can be as small as one misplaced character in a million-line program or as complex as multiple character arrays that are inappropriately handled. Some buffer overflows can be found in local programs such as calendar applications, calculators, games, and Microsoft Office applications, whereas others could be resident in remote software such as e-mail servers, FTP, DNS, and the ever-popular Internet Web servers.