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1.10 How my Buffer Overflow Wiped my Colleague's Hard Disk

Juppies 2 by Dr Heinz M. Kabutz

This is a sad story. About three decades ago, I wrote a program in C++ and with the platform I was using, was supposed to have null as the last value in my arrays. I didn't read the documentation and thus didn't do this. I was running the code on Solaris and for some reason it worked, despite the bug in my code. A fellow student wanted to see whether my program would also compile and run on Windows. I strongly urged him not to try it, but he did anyway. It compiled fine, but when it ran, due to the unterminated array, it caused a catastrophic failure and wiped out his hard drive. It was an unfortunate mistake, and I did feel quite bad for my colleague.

Hackers exploit these types of bugs all the time - they are called buffer overflow attacks - in order to insert their own program code and to take over control of machines.

Java protects us against writing or reading past the end of an array by consistently throwing an ArrayIndexOutOfBoundsException. Much better!


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