REVIEW: "Exploiting Software", Greg Hoglund/Gary McGraw
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"Exploiting Software", Greg Hoglund/Gary McGraw, 2004, 0-201-78695-8,
%A Greg Hoglund
%A Gary McGraw
%C P.O. Box 520, 26 Prince Andrew Place, Don Mills, Ontario M3C 2T8
%I Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.
%O U$49.99/C$71.99 416-447-5101 fax: 416-443-0948
%P 471 p.
%T "Exploiting Software: How to Break Code"
I have learned to beware of books with titles like this, which
generally indicate a hastily compiled set of old vulnerabilities,
benefitting nobody save the author. This work, however, turns out to
have a lot of value for those interested in security of software.
Although it does not deal with the factors inherent in software that
almost ensure problems, chapter one outlines the fact of bugs in
software, the relative rate and increasing prevalence, and future
developments that may exacerbate the issue. Chapter two provides
taxonomies of general types of software problems (distinguishing, for
example, between a bug and a flaw), patterns of attack activities
(pointing out that most exploits are used in combination), and types
of system scanning activities (used to determine specific attacks that
might be effective). This material is very useful in structuring the
debate about software exploits and attacks in general, but,
ironically, the chapter (and book) itself could benefit from better
organization. Reverse engineering, both via black box testing and
through code analysis, is described in chapter three. The discussion
is general, and presents the different activities that can be
undertaken, usually at a fairly abstract level. (This is not true in
all cases: there is a chunk of twelve pages of code for a plug-in
module and eight pages of script for the IDA disassembler, which is of
questionable utility, depending on the familiarity the reader may have
with that particular program.)
At this point in the book, the issue of the validity of the "learn to
exploit in order to learn to protect" philosophy should be addressed.
In general, the "hack to protect" books do not provide much that is of
value for the defenders. That statement is not necessarily true of
this work. Since most of the presentation is at a conceptual level,
it is the ideas, and not particular exploits, that are being reviewed.
The authors are explaining tools and techniques that, yes, can be used
by attackers, but can equally be used by those who wish to probe a
given system for weaknesses in order to determine vulnerabilities to
be patched. (There appears to be only one exception in chapter three:
the authors note that vendor patches tend to act as a roadmap for
vulnerabilities, and it is difficult to say how this technique is
useful for defence, other than to note that the probability of an
exploit increases after a patch has been issued.)
Chapter four lists types of attacks on server software, while five
looks at clients, primarily web browsers. Indications pointing to
patterns of malformed input that are likely to generate successful
exploits are described in chapter six. The classic and ubiquitous
buffer overflow gets a detailed explanation (supported with a number
of examples) in chapter seven, which has a strangely extensive section
on RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) architectures. Chapter
eight is rather disappointing in light of the tone of the rest of the
book: it is primarily concerned with how to create and program
rootkits, and the worth for defence is doubtful.
While ultimately of greatest use to a rather select audience (those
specifically concerned with finding and patching loopholes in
software), this book does have a lot to say to most security
professionals. The security aspects of software development tend to
be glossed over too quickly in most general works on security.
Specific examples of malformed input are used, in too many security
texts, as evidence of the author's superior security erudition, rather
than to explain the underlying concepts. Hoglund and McGraw have
prepared solid tutorials and definitions of these important ideas
(although one could wish that they had prepared the arrangement of the
book with the same degree of care).
copyright Robert M. Slade, 2004 BKEXPLSW.RVW 20040531
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