Hacking: The Art of Exploitation

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Hacking: The Art of Exploitation: The Art of Exploitation


Hacking is the art of creative problem solving, whether that means finding an unconventional solution to a difficult problem or exploiting holes in sloppy programming. Many people call themselves hackers, but few have the strong technical foundation needed to really push the envelope.

Rather than merely showing how to run existing exploits, author Jon Erickson explains how arcane hacking techniques actually work. To share the art and science of hacking in a way that is accessible to everyone, Hacking: The Art of Exploitation, 2nd Edition introduces the fundamentals of C programming from a hacker’s perspective.

Use it to follow along with the book’s examples as you fill gaps in your knowledge and explore hacking techniques on your own. Get your hands dirty debugging code, overflowing buffers, hijacking network communications, bypassing protections, exploiting cryptographic weaknesses, and perhaps even inventing new exploits. This book will teach you how to:

    • Program computers using C, assembly language, and shell scripts
    • Corrupt system memory to run arbitrary code using buffer overflows and format strings
    • Inspect processor registers and system memory with a debugger to gain a real understanding of what is happening
    • Outsmart common security measures like nonexecutable stacks and intrusion detection systems
    • Gain access to a remote server using port-binding or connect-back shellcode, and alter a server’s logging behavior to hide your presence
    • Redirect network traffic, conceal open ports, and hijack TCP connections
    • Crack encrypted wireless traffic using the FMS attack, and speed up brute-force attacks using a password probability matrix


Hackers are always pushing the boundaries, investigating the unknown, and evolving their art. Even if you don’t already know how to program, Hacking: The Art of Exploitation, 2nd Edition will give you a complete picture of programming, machine architecture, network communications, and existing hacking techniques. Combine this knowledge with the accompanying Linux environment, and all you need is your own creativity.

Chapter   0x100.   




The idea of hacking may conjure stylized images of electronic vandalism, espionage, dyed hair, and body piercings. Most people associate hacking with breaking the law and assume that everyone who engages in hacking activities is a criminal. Granted, there are people out there who use hacking techniques to break the law, but hacking isn’t really about that. In fact, hacking is more about following the law than breaking it. The essence of hacking is finding unintended or overlooked uses for the laws and properties of a given situation and then applying them in new and inventive ways to solve a problem — whatever it may be. The following math problem illustrates the essence of hacking:


Use each of the numbers 1, 3, 4, and 6 exactly once with any of the four basic math operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) to total 24. Each number must be used once and only once, and you may define the order of operations; for example, 3 * (4 + 6) + 1 = 31 is valid, however incorrect, since it doesn’t total 24.


The rules for this problem are well defined and simple, yet the answer eludes many. Like the solution to this problem (shown on the last page of this book), hacked solutions follow the rules of the system, but they use those rules in counterintuitive ways. This gives hackers their edge, allowing them to solve problems in ways unimaginable for those confined to conventional thinking and methodologies. Since the infancy of computers, hackers have been creatively solving problems. In the late 1950s, the MIT model railroad club was given a donation of parts, mostly old telephone equipment. The club’s members used this equipment to rig up a complex system that allowed multiple operators to control different parts of the track by dialing in to the appropriate sections. They called this new and inventive use of telephone equipment hacking ; many people consider this group to be the original hackers.


The group moved on to programming on punch cards and ticker tape for early computers like the IBM 704 and the TX-0. While others were content with writing programs that just solved problems, the early hackers were obsessed with writing programs that solved problems well. A new program that could achieve the same result as an existing one but used fewer punch cards was considered better, even though it did the same thing. The key difference was how the program achieved its results — elegance. Being able to reduce the number of punch cards needed for a program showed an artistic mastery over the computer. A nicely crafted table can hold a vase just as well as a milk crate can, but one sure looks a lot better than the other. Early hackers proved that technical problems can have artistic solutions, and they thereby transformed programming from a mere engineering task into an art form.


Like many other forms of art, hacking was often misunderstood. The few who got it formed an informal subculture that remained intensely focused on learning and mastering their art. They believed that information should be free and anything that stood in the way of that freedom should be circumvented. Such obstructions included authority figures, the bureaucracy of college classes, and discrimination. In a sea of graduation-driven students, this unofficial group of hackers defied conventional goals and instead pursued knowledge itself. This drive to continually learn and explore transcended even the conventional boundaries drawn by discrimination, evident in the MIT model railroad club’s acceptance of 12-year-old Peter Deutsch when he demonstrated his knowledge of the TX-0 and his desire to learn. Age, race, gender, appearance, academic degrees, and social status were not primary criteria for judging another’s worth — not because of a desire for equality, but because of a desire to advance the emerging art of hacking. The original hackers found splendor and elegance in the conventionally dry sciences of math and electronics. They saw programming as a form of artistic expression and the computer as an instrument of that art.


Their desire to dissect and understand wasn’t intended to demystify artistic endeavors; it was simply a way to achieve a greater appreciation of them. These knowledge-driven values would eventually be called the Hacker Ethic: the appreciation of logic as an art form and the promotion of the free flow of information, surmounting conventional boundaries and restrictions for the simple goal of better understanding the world. This is not a new cultural trend; the Pythagoreans in ancient Greece had a similar ethic and subculture, despite not owning computers. They saw beauty in mathematics and discovered many core concepts in geometry. That thirst for knowledge and its beneficial byproducts would continue on through history, from the Pythagoreans to Ada Lovelace to Alan Turing to the hackers of the MIT model railroad club. Modern hackers like Richard Stallman and Steve Wozniak have continued the hacking legacy, bringing us modern operating systems, programming languages, personal computers, and many other technologies that we use every day.


How does one distinguish between the good hackers who bring us the wonders of technological advancement and the evil hackers who steal our credit card numbers? The term cracker was coined to distinguish evil hackers from the good ones.


Journalists were told that crackers were supposed to be the bad guys, while hackers were the good guys. Hackers stayed true to the Hacker Ethic, while crackers were only interested in breaking the law and making a quick buck. Crackers were considered to be much less talented than the elite hackers, as they simply made use of hacker-written tools and scripts without understanding how they worked. Cracker was meant to be the catch-all label for anyone doing anything unscrupulous with a computer — pirating software, defacing websites, and worst of all, not understanding what they were doing. But very few people use this term today. The term’s lack of popularity might be due to its confusing etymology — cracker originally described those who crack software copyrights and reverse engineer copy-protection schemes. Its current unpopularity might simply result from its two ambiguous new definitions: a group of people who engage in illegal activity with computers or people who are relatively unskilled hackers. Few technology journalists feel compelled to use terms that most of their readers are unfamiliar with.






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