Oscar Forner
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LD_PRELOAD to fix unsecure libraries


I have seen LD_PRELOAD used in several cases. From using it to allow programs that link to a newer version of the libstdc++, to cracks for applications that hijack some calls and provide the expected result to tell the application they have a valid license.

The aim of this post is to show how to find these dangerous calls in applications that you are running which you cannot fix (i.e. you do not have access to the source code). Imagine that one of these applications uses the library call strcpy, as we know that call is dangerous and we have more secure alternatives such as strncpy.

All the code used in this post is available in this repo

As an example of these applications I will use the following code:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <string.h>

int main(int argc, char *argv[])
	if (argc <= 1)
		printf("Bad number of parameters.\nUsage: %s <string up to 512 characters>\n", argv[0]);
		return 1;
	char s[512];
	strcpy(s, argv[1]);
	printf("You introduced: %s\n", s);
	return 0;

An example of its execution is the following:

$ ./app Wololo
You introduced: Wololo

As you can imagine, we will have problems if the user gives a string longer than 511 characters to the application because it will override more than just the string. Actually, it can even be an entry point for an exploit (it depends on the compiling flags).

$ ./app $(perl -e 'print "A"x1000')
[1] 6625 segmentation fault (core dumped) ./app $(perl -e 'print "A"x1000')

Find which dangerous calls are happenning in the application

To help us in this task we will use ltrace. Remember, we do not have access to the code.

$ ltrace ./app Wololo
__libc_start_main(0x4005f6, 2, 0x7ffc587856b8, 0x4006a0 <unfinished ...>
strcpy(0x7ffc587853c0, "Wololo")                                        = 0x7ffc587853c0
printf("You introduced: %s\n", "Wololo"You introduced: Wololo
)                                = 23
+++ exited (status 0) +++

In the output above we can see that the call strcpy is used. It is dangerous, so we want to use the call strncpy instead.

Using a more secure call than strcpy

We can create our own version of the strcpy that actually calls strncpy:


char * strcpy(char * s1, const char * s2)
        strncpy(s1, s2, 511); //Copy up to the first 511 characters
        s1[511] = '\0'; // Set always the latest character to '\0'
        return s1;

Now we have to compile it as a shared object (library to link):

gcc -shared -fPIC our_patch.c -o our_patch.so

Using LD_PRELOAD to call our strcpy

LD_PRELOAD will be used to load out strcpy instead of the one provided by the standard library.

$ LD_PRELOAD=$PWD/our_patch.so ./app $(perl -e 'print "A"x1000')

Note that it only copies up to the first 511 characters of the string s2.


I want to point out the versatility of the LD_PRELOAD, for example think about how can this help mitigate a 0-day exploit until the code is fixed.

This use of LD_PRELOAD is quite common in competitions like a CTF (in the attach/defense style) where you are provided with a server (with some services running) and you have to keep alive your services as much time as you can, but usually the services are an older version with known issues you need to patch on the fly ;)