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Every object has a storage duration that determines its lifetime: static, threadautomatic, or allocated.

According to the C Standard, 6.2.4, paragraph 2 [ISO/IEC 9899:2011],

The lifetime of an object is the portion of program execution during which storage is guaranteed to be reserved for it. An object exists, has a constant address, and retains its last-stored value throughout its lifetime. If an object is referred to outside of its lifetime, the behavior is undefined. The value of a pointer becomes indeterminate when the object it points to reaches the end of its lifetime.

Do not attempt to access an object outside of its lifetime. Attempting to do so is undefined behavior and can lead to an exploitable vulnerability. (See also undefined behavior 9 in the C Standard, Annex J.)

Noncompliant Code Example (Differing Storage Durations)

In this noncompliant code example, the address of the variable c_str with automatic storage duration is assigned to the variable p, which has static storage duration. The assignment itself is valid, but it is invalid for c_str to go out of scope while p holds its address, as happens at the end of dont_do_this().

#include <stdio.h>
 
const char *p;
void dont_do_this(void) {
  const char c_str[] = "This will change";
  p = c_str; /* Dangerous */
}

void innocuous(void) {
  printf("%s\n", p);
}

int main(void) {
  dont_do_this();
  innocuous();
  return 0;
}

Compliant Solution (Same Storage Durations)

In this compliant solution, p is declared with the same storage duration as c_str, preventing p from taking on an indeterminate value outside of this_is_OK():

void this_is_OK(void) {
  const char c_str[] = "Everything OK";
  const char *p = c_str;
  /* ... */
}
/* p is inaccessible outside the scope of string c_str */

Alternatively, both p and c_str could be declared with static storage duration.

Compliant Solution (Differing Storage Durations)

If it is necessary for p to be defined with static storage duration but c_str with a more limited duration, then p can be set to NULL before c_str is destroyed. This practice prevents p from taking on an indeterminate value, although any references to p must check for NULL.

const char *p;
void is_this_OK(void) {
  const char c_str[] = "Everything OK?";
  p = c_str;
  /* ... */
  p = NULL;
}

Noncompliant Code Example (Return Values)

In this noncompliant code sample, the function init_array() returns a pointer to a character array with automatic storage duration, which is accessible to the caller:

char *init_array(void) {
  char array[10];
  /* Initialize array */
  return array;
}

Some compilers generate a diagnostic message when a pointer to an object with automatic storage duration is returned from a function, as in this example. Programmers should compile code at high warning levels and resolve any diagnostic messages. (See MSC00-C. Compile cleanly at high warning levels.)

Compliant Solution (Return Values)

The solution, in this case, depends on the intent of the programmer. If the intent is to modify the value of array and have that modification persist outside the scope of init_array(), the desired behavior can be achieved by declaring array elsewhere and passing it as an argument to init_array():

#include <stddef.h>
void init_array(char *array, size_t len) {
  /* Initialize array */
  return;
}

int main(void) {
  char array[10];
  init_array(array, sizeof(array) / sizeof(array[0]));
  /* ... */
  return 0;
}

Noncompliant Code Example (Output Parameter)

In this noncompliant code example, the function squirrel_away() stores a pointer to local variable local into a location pointed to by function parameter ptr_param. Upon the return of squirrel_away(), the pointer ptr_param points to a variable that has an expired lifetime.

void squirrel_away(char **ptr_param) {
  char local[10];
  /* Initialize array */
  *ptr_param = local;
}

void rodent(void) {
  char *ptr;
  squirrel_away(&ptr);
  /* ptr is live but invalid here */
}

Compliant Solution (Output Parameter)

In this compliant solution, the variable local has static storage duration; consequently, ptr can be used to reference the local array within the rodent() function:

char local[10];
 
void squirrel_away(char **ptr_param) {
  /* Initialize array */
  *ptr_param = local;
}

void rodent(void) {
  char *ptr;
  squirrel_away(&ptr);
  /* ptr is valid in this scope */
}

Risk Assessment

Referencing an object outside of its lifetime can result in an attacker being able to execute arbitrary code.

Rule

Severity

Likelihood

Remediation Cost

Priority

Level

DCL30-C

High

Probable

High

P6

L2

Automated Detection

Tool

Version

Checker

Description

Astrée
19.04
pointered-deallocationFully checked
Axivion Bauhaus Suite

6.9.0

CertC-DCL30Fully implemented
CodeSonar
5.1p0
LANG.STRUCT.RPLReturns pointer to local
Compass/ROSE

Can detect violations of this rule. It automatically detects returning pointers to local variables. Detecting more general cases, such as examples where static pointers are set to local variables which then go out of scope, would be difficult

Coverity

2017.07

RETURN_LOCAL

Finds many instances where a function will return a pointer to a local stack variable. Coverity Prevent cannot discover all violations of this rule, so further verification is necessary

Klocwork
2018

LOCRET.ARG
LOCRET.GLOB

LOCRET.RET

LDRA tool suite
9.7.1

42 D, 77 D, 71 S, 565 S

Enhanced Enforcement
Parasoft C/C++test
10.4.2

CERT_C-DCL30-a
CERT_C-DCL30-b

The address of an object with automatic storage shall not be returned from a function
The address of an object with automatic storage shall not be assigned to another object that may persist after the first object has ceased to exist

Polyspace Bug Finder

R2018a

Pointer or reference to stack variable leaving scope

MISRA C:2012 Rule 18.6

Pointer to local variable leaves the variable scope

The address of an object with automatic storage shall not be copied to another object that persists after the first object has ceased to exist

PRQA QA-C
9.5

3217, 3225, 3230, 4140

Partially implemented
PRQA QA-C++
4.3

2515, 2516, 2527, 2528, 4026, 4624, 4629


PVS-Studio

6.23

V506, V507, V558, V623, V723, V738


Splint
3.1.1


TrustInSoft Analyzer

1.38

Value analysis (-val)

Exhaustively verified
(See one compliant and one non-compliant example interpreted in the simplified on-line version of the tool.)

Related Vulnerabilities

Search for vulnerabilities resulting from the violation of this rule on the CERT website.

Related Guidelines

Key here (explains table format and definitions)

Taxonomy

Taxonomy item

Relationship

CERT C Secure Coding StandardMSC00-C. Compile cleanly at high warning levelsPrior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship
CERT CEXP54-CPP. Do not access an object outside of its lifetimePrior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship
ISO/IEC TR 24772:2013Dangling References to Stack Frames [DCM]Prior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship
ISO/IEC TS 17961Escaping of the address of an automatic object [addrescape]Prior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship
MISRA C:2012Rule 18.6 (required)Prior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship

CERT-CWE Mapping Notes

Key here for mapping notes

CWE-562 and DCL30-C

DCL30-C = Union( CWE-562, list) where list =


  • Assigning a stack pointer to an argument (thereby letting it outlive the current function


Bibliography

[Coverity 2007]
[ISO/IEC 9899:2011]6.2.4, "Storage Durations of Objects"



1 Comment

  1. The use of an array initializer is not allowed by C90, so the problem would be better illustrated by using auto ints rather than const char arrays.