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Secure Coding in C and C++ 1st Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0321335722
ISBN-10: 0321335724
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Robert Seacord began programming (professionally) for IBM in 1982 and has been programming in C since 1985, and in C++ since 1992. Robert is currently a Senior Vulnerability Analyst with the CERT/Coordination Center at the Software Engineering Institute (SEI). He is coauthor of Building Systems from Commercial Components (Addison-Wesley, 2002) and Modernizing Legacy Systems (Addison-Wesley, 2003). The CERT/CC, among other security-related activities, regularly analyzes software vulnerability reports and assesses the risk to the Internet and other critical infrastructure.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The CERT Coordination Center® (CERT/CC) was formed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in November 1988 in response to the Morris worm incident, which brought 10 percent of Internet systems to a halt in November 1988. The CERT/CC is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the Software Engineering Institute (SEI), a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The initial focus of the CERT/CC was incident response and analysis. Incidents include successful attacks such as compromises and denial of service, as well as attack attempts, probes, and scans. Since 1988, the CERT/CC has received more than 22,665 hotline calls reporting computer security incidents or requesting information, and has handled more than 319,992 computer security incidents. The number of incidents reported each year continues to grow.

Responding to incidents, while necessary, is insufficient to secure the Internet and interconnected information systems. Analysis indicates that the majority of incidents are caused by trojans, social engineering, and the exploitation of software vulnerabilities, including software defects, design decisions, configuration decisions, and unexpected interactions between systems. The CERT/CC monitors public sources of vulnerability information and regularly receives reports of vulnerabilities. Since 1995, more than 16,726 vulnerabilities have been reported. When a report is received, the CERT/CC analyzes the potential vulnerability and works with technology producers to inform them of security deficiencies in their products and to facilitate and track their response to those problems.

Similar to incident reports, vulnerability reports continue to grow at an alarming rate. While managing vulnerabilities pushes the process upstream, it is again insufficient to address the issues of Internet and information system security. To address the growing number of both vulnerabilities and incidents, it is increasingly apparent that the problem must be attacked at the source by working to prevent the introduction of software vulnerabilities during software development and ongoing maintenance. Analysis of existing vulnerabilities indicates that a relatively small number of root causes account for the majority of vulnerabilities. The goal of this book is to educate developers about these root causes and the steps that can be taken so that vulnerabilities are not introduced.


Secure Coding in C and C++ should be useful to anyone involved in the development or maintenance of software in C and C++.

  • For a C/C++ programmer, this book will teach you how to identify common programming errors that result in software vulnerabilities, understand how these errors are exploited, and implement a solution in a secure fashion.
  • For a software project manager, this book identifies the risks and consequences of software vulnerabilities to guide investments in developing secure software.
  • For a computer science student, this book will teach you programming practices that will help you to avoid developing bad habits and enable you to develop secure programs during your professional career.
  • For a security analyst, this book provides a detailed description of common vulnerabilities, identifies ways to detect these vulnerabilities, and offers practical avoidance strategies.

Organization and Content

Secure Coding in C and C++ provides practical guidance on secure practices in C and C++ programming. Producing secure programs requires secure designs. However, even the best designs can lead to insecure programs if developers are unaware of the many security pitfalls inherent in C and C++ programming. This book provides a detailed explanation of common programming errors in C and C++ and describes how these errors can lead to code that is vulnerable to exploitation. The book concentrates on security issues intrinsic to the C and C++ programming languages and associated libraries. It does not emphasize security issues involving interactions with external systems such as databases and Web servers, as these are rich topics on their own. The intent is that this book be useful to anyone involved in developing secure C and C++ programs regardless of the specific application.

Secure Coding in C and C++ is organized around functional capabilities commonly implemented by software engineers that have potential security consequences, such as formatted output and arithmetic operations. Each chapter describes insecure programming practices and common errors that can lead to vulnerabilities, how these programming flaws can be exploited, the potential consequences of exploitation, and secure alternatives. Root causes of software vulnerabilities, such as buffer overflows, integer type range errors, and invalid format strings, are identified and explained where applicable. Strategies for securely implementing functional capabilities are described in each chapter, as well as techniques for discovering vulnerabilities in existing code.

This book contains the following chapters:

  • Chapter 1 provides an overview of the problem, introduces security terms and concepts, and provides insight as to why so many vulnerabilities are found in C and C++ programs.
  • Chapter 2 describes string manipulation in C and C++, common security flaws, and resulting vulnerabilities including buffer overflow and stack smashing. Both code and arc injection exploits are examined.
  • Chapter 3 introduces arbitrary memory write exploits that allows an attacker to write a single address to any location in memory. This chapter describes how these exploits can be used to execute arbitrary code on a compromised machine. Vulnerabilities resulting from arbitrary memory writes are discussed in later chapters.
  • Chapter 4 describes dynamic memory management. Dynamically allocated buffer overflows, writing to freed memory, and double-free vulnerabilities are described.
  • Chapter 5 covers integral security issues (security issues dealing with integers) including integer overflows, sign errors, and truncation errors.
  • Chapter 6 describes the correct and incorrect use of formatted output functions. Both format string and buffer overflow vulnerabilities resulting from the incorrect use of these functions are described.
  • Chapter 7 describes common vulnerabilities associated with file I/O including race conditions and time of creation, time of use (TOCTOU) vulnerabilities.
  • Chapter 8 recommends specific development practices for improving the overall security of your C / C++ application. These recommendations are in addition to the recommendations included in each chapter for addressing specific vulnerability classes.

Secure Coding in C and C++ contains hundreds of examples of secure and insecure code as well as sample exploits. Almost all of these examples are in C and C++, although comparisons are drawn with other languages. The examples are implemented for Windows and Linux operating systems. Unless otherwise stated, Microsoft Windows examples are compiled using Visual C++ .NET and tested on Windows 2000 Professional platform with an Intel Pentium 4 processor, while Linux examples are compiled with GNU gcc/g++ and tested running Red Hat Linux 9 on an Intel Pentium 4 processor.

While the specific examples typically have been compiled and tested in one or more of these environments, vulnerabilities are evaluated to determine whether they are specific to or generalizable across compiler version, operating system, microprocessor, applicable C or C++ standards, little or big endian architectures, and execution stack architecture.

This book focuses on programming flaws in C and C++ that are the most common causes of software vulnerability. However, because of size and space constraints, not every potential source of vulnerabilities is covered. Additional and updated information, events, and news related to Secure Coding in C and C++ is available at http://www.cert.org/books/secure-coding/. Vulnerabilities discussed in the book are also cross-referenced with real-world examples from the US-CERT Vulnerability Notes Database at http://www.kb.cert.org/vuls/.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional; 1 edition (September 19, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0321335724
  • ISBN-13: 978-0321335722
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #585,254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Meyers on November 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
There seem to be three categories of computer security books. The first category is books written for system administrators or computer owners, and explains how to protect the computers under their control. The second category is the "true crime" genre that recounts the exploits of black hat hackers or explains the hacker culture (sometimes as "how-to" books for non-programmers). The third, and rarest, category is books for professional programmers that explain the coding idioms that make programs more secure or more insecure.

This book is an excellent contribution to the third category. It explains how certain ways of programming in C and C++ make programs vulnerable to security attacks. There are many code examples throughout the book illustrating the issues.

Although everything is explained in great detail, the treatment is not superficial. (No background in computer security is required, but the reader should be at least a journeyman C or C++ programmer.) Some of the security holes will surprise readers familiar with the basics of computer security. My favorite example: Many programmers know that the gets() function once was involved with compromising 10% of the computers on the Internet in a single day, but did you know that printf can also be a security flaw in some cases? The statement:
can allow an attacker to run any code of his choosing if s is a string provided by the attacker. Even more surprising is the printf attack has been used successfully on popular programs.

This book should be read by any programmer who does I/O across a network, or who writes applications that provide a captive environment for their users (data entry stations, information kiosks), or who writes programs to manipulate sensitive data.
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Format: Paperback
Seacord gives an unsettling walkthrough of vulnerabilities present in much of C and C++ coding. Buffer overflows take up a significant portion of the discussion. Which leads into considering how these can be introduced into unwary code. Consider C. The common string functions of strcpy, strcat, gets, streadd() and others are shown to be very exposed to error or attack. C++ also has similar drawbacks.

The text explains that much of these trace back to some bad usages. Strings are defined to be null terminated. And bounds checking is often not done. While this is often true of code that the programmer writes, it is also true of various common C library functions, like those mentioned above. In fact, Seacord goes so far as to emphatically assert that gets() should never be used in your code. Instead, he suggests fgets() or gets_s().

Seacord also covers other topics, like dynamic memory management, which might have vulnerable heaps. Various 3rd party analysis tools are suggested, to find these errors.

Overall, the book can be quite disturbing, if you are maintaining a large body of C or C++ code. Might make you want to delve in and replace those gets(), at the very least.

While the text doesn't mention this, it turns out that recent languages like Java and C# have far more robust string handling abilities. They were written after the above flaws in C and C++ become apparent.
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Format: Paperback
This is an important book for people that write computer programs and their managers.
It is also very well organized and well written. Seacord reveals how the bad guys take
advantage of bugs in programs to break into a system or damage it. It is the most
complete list of exploitable bug types that I am aware of.

Many examples are given, naming software that have been exploited by bad guys. Some
may protest that this provides the bad guys with a list of easy targets. All of the
vulnerable software has been updated to fix the bug, and the improved version has been
available for a long time.

Everyone that writes software intended to be used by someone else should read this book.
Every organization that writes software should have a copy.

Most of the security flaws are buffer overflows. Secord shows how, from the simple use of
gets() through mistakes triggered by subtle differences in the rules for signed and unsigned
integers of various sizes. There are other ways, and some are quite subtle, but still
preventable. The bad guys are not Jay Leno's "Dumb crooks."

The primary way to frustrate the bad guys is to not have any of the bugs they exploit.
Seacord admits zero bugs is an elusive goal and recommends defense in depth by the use of
various freeware or commercial packages intended to trap or prevent certain errors.
He lists and describes many, with their strengths and weaknesses.

Read this book and make your code better. Read it again, next year.

The following are my opinions, based on over 40 years writing software, but I doubt
Seacord would disagree. Every security bug is also a bug that can cause a crash or a
wrong output from a program.
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This is one of the few books that every C and C++ programmer should read. It shows detailed examples of the very undesirable sorts of things that attackers can force badly written code into unwittingly doing; it also explains how to create multiple layers of defense around the bad code that inevitably finds its way into real programs. The book is well written; I will concentrate here on the relatively minor defects.

First: Many sections of the book are of necessity really, really boring. The chapter on integer security must set the record for most boring chapter ever written in a programming textbook. Fortunately, most of the boring parts can be skimmed over. For example, once you grok the basic idea of how an attacker can exploit a buffer overflow to overwrite the return address on the stack, you do not need to read the long discussion that shows in gory detail exactly how it is done.

Second: Although the authors are clearly very knowledgeable in their area, the book contains an occasional strangely worded phrase (and in one case a piece of code that does not do what they state it does) that leads me to suspect that the authors perhaps might not have *written* lots of code themselves.

Third: The discussion on the various tools and libraries that are available to mitigate security risks are useful, but strangely irrelevant. I have programmed on a lot of different projects in my life with a lot of different people, and I have met few, if any, people who actually use any of these tools and libraries. Further, the time that would be spent using the tools would in many cases be better spent by simply re-reading your code multiple times to find and remove the awful code that the tools are defending against and that no decent programmer should write in the first place.

That being said, the book is well written and essential reading for C and C++ programmers.
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