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SubjectVLAs and security
Date

I do not agree that VLAs are generally bad for security.
I think the opposite is true. A VLA with the right size
allows the compiler to automatically perform or insert
meaningful bounds checks, while a fixed upper bound does not.


For example:

char buf[N];
buf[n] = 1;

Here, a compiler / analysis tool can for n < N using
static analysis or insert a run-time check.

Replacing this with

char buf[MAX_SIZE]

hides the information about the true upper bound
from automatic tools.

Limiting the stack usage can also be achieved in
the following way:

assert(N <= MAX_SIZE)
char buf[N];


Of course, having predictable stack usage might be more 
important in the kernel and might be a good argument
to still prefer the constant bound.

But loosing the tighter bounds is clearly a disadvantage
with respect to security that one should keep it mind.


Best,
Martin



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