Position Independent Code


PIE stands for Position Independent Executable, which means that every time you run the file it gets loaded into a different memory address. This means you cannot hardcode values such as function addresses and gadget locations without finding out where they are.


Luckily, this does not mean it's impossible to exploit. PIE executables are based around relative rather than absolute addresses, meaning that while the locations in memory are fairly random the offsets between different parts of the binary remain constant. For example, if you know that the function main is located 0x128 bytes in memory after the base address of the binary, and you somehow find the location of main, you can simply subtract 0x128 from this to get the base address and from the addresses of everything else.


So, all we need to do is find a single address and PIE is bypassed. Where could we leak this address from?

The stack of course!

We know that the return pointer is located on the stack - and much like a canary, we can use format string (or other ways) to read the value off the stack. The value will always be a static offset away from the binary base, enabling us to completely bypass PIE!


Due to the way PIE randomisation works, the base address of a PIE executable will always end in the hexadecimal characters 000. This is because pages are the things being randomised in memory, which have a standard size of 0x1000. Operating Systems keep track of page tables which point to each section of memory and define the permissions for each section, similar to segmentation.

Checking the base address ends in 000 should probably be the first thing you do if your exploit is not working as you expected.

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