Unsafe function call from a signal handler

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There are several functions which - under certain circumstances, if used in a signal handler - may result in the corruption of memory, allowing for exploitation of the process.


  • Access control: It may be possible to execute arbitrary code through the use of a write-what-where condition.
  • Integrity: Signal race conditions often result in data corruption.

Exposure period

  • Requirements specification: A language might be chosen which is not subject to this flaw.
  • Design: Signal handlers with complicated functionality may result in this issue.
  • Implementation: The use of any number of non-reentrant functions will result in this issue.


  • Languages: C, C++, Assembly
  • Platforms: All

Required resources




Likelihood of exploit


This flaw is a subset of race conditions occurring in signal handler calls which is concerned primarily with memory corruption caused by calls to non-reentrant functions in signal handlers.

Non-reentrant functions are functions that cannot safely be called, interrupted, and then recalled before the first call has finished without resulting in memory corruption. The function call syslog() is an example of this. In order to perform its functionality, it allocates a small amount of memory as “scratch space.” If syslog() is suspended by a signal call and the signal handler calls syslog(), the memory used by both of these functions enters an undefined, and possibly, exploitable state.

Risk Factors

  • Talk about the factors that make this vulnerability likely or unlikely to actually happen
  • Discuss the technical impact of a successful exploit of this vulnerability
  • Consider the likely [business impacts] of a successful attack


See Race condition in signal handler, for an example usage of free() in a signal handler which is exploitable.

  • Requirements specification: A language might be chosen which is not subject to this flaw, through a guarantee of reentrant code.
  • Design: Design signal handlers to only set flags rather than perform complex functionality.
  • Implementation: Ensure that non-reentrant functions are not found in signal handlers. Also, use sanity checks to ensure that state is consistently performing asynchronous actions which effect the state of execution.