Is it possible to overflow a buffer on an Arduino Uno R3 ? The following code is vulnerable on modern computers:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <string.h>
int main(void)
    char buff[15];
    int pass = 0;

    printf("\n Enter the password : \n");

    if(strcmp(buff, "supersecret"))
        printf ("\n Wrong Password \n");
        printf ("\n Correct Password \n");
        pass = 1;


    return 0;

If I use a serial connection to input the string, is it also vulnerable on an Arduino Uno? Can an attacker run arbitrary code or just toggle the led on or off?

  • We cannot answer a question about all other microcontrollers. I'm sure some are vulnerable and others aren't. – Neil Smithline Dec 5 '15 at 23:18
  • Okay, edited the question to only include arduino uno R3. – redfast00 Dec 5 '15 at 23:19
  • Edit didn't take. We probably had an edit clash. You can redo the edit if you want. – Neil Smithline Dec 5 '15 at 23:21
  • @NeilSmithline thanks for replacing the pastebin link with the code. How did you put it in a box? Wanted to do that, but it messed up my code. – redfast00 Dec 5 '15 at 23:23
  • It's preformatted text per editing help. – Neil Smithline Dec 5 '15 at 23:29

The answer to this question will be heavily dependent on several factors including the toolchain used, and the target architecture. For simplicity's sake I'll limit this answer to the Arduino Uno and the ATMega328 AVR microcontroller.

tl;dr: Yes, it is possible, but only if you include WriteFlashByte(), or WriteFlashPage() in your source, and if the attacker has access to your source, or physical access to your device.

Buffer Overflow Exploits

Buffer overflow exploits are fairly straightforward. The general idea is to write a shellcode payload to a known location on the stack, and overwrite the return address to point at that shellcode. This works because the x86 architecture allows execution from ram. This is not the only exploit of this type, but it is very common.

Why the architecture is important

The AVR8 architecture (the one used by the ATMega micro on the Arduino) is what is known as a Harvard Architecture. The important part to note here is that in the Harvard Architecture the "instruction memory", or "program memory" is completely independent from "data memory". In the AVR8 architecture the program memory is implemented in Flash, the data memory is implemented in SRAM, and instructions can only be fetched and executed from Flash memory. What this means is that the buffer overflow exploit outlined above won't work. You can override the return address, but the address you change will be read from Flash, and not from SRAM. Now, you might think that this would make a buffer overflow exploit impossible, but it does not.

AVR8 buffer overflow exploits

Since the only way to execute code on an ATMega328 is to execute from Flash memory, we will have to put our shellcode into Flash memory. Here, you will find an appnote with the requisite information about reading/writing to flash memory. So, now we know that it is actually possible to write a payload to program memory during runtime, but there is an issue. The only way we can write data to flash is by using either WriteFlashByte(), or WriteFlashPage(), and the only way to use those functions is for them to already be in the Flash memory for that device. However, not only does the device need to be programmed with one of these functions, you must also know the address where that function resides in memory. There are two ways of discovering this information:

  • Compile the source using the exact same flags, then use avr-objdump to determine if these functions are present, and what address they reside at.
  • Read the contents of the Flash memory present on the micro, then use avr-objdump to determine if these functions are present, and what address they reside at. Note that if the lock bits are set, you may not be able to read the contents of the Flash memory.

If you do not have access to the source, or you can't read the flash memory to dump it, a buffer overflow exploit of this type would be nigh on impossible.

  • An alternative to searching for those functions with avr-objdump is to search for the SPM instruction in the disassembled object. More information here – David Freitag Dec 6 '15 at 3:49
  • Can an attacker overflow the pass variable? Otherwise great answer. – redfast00 Dec 6 '15 at 9:56
  • Great answer! Is the exploit you describe basically ROP looking for gadgets with those two functions? – Neil Smithline Dec 7 '15 at 2:22

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