1. Due Date

Checkpoint (floors 1 and 2): Due by 11:59 pm, Thursday, March 2, 2023. You may not use late days on the checkpoint.

Completed lab (floors 1 through 4 and optional extra credit): Due by 11:59 pm, Thursday, March 16, 2023 (after break)

By the checkpoint due date, you should have completed floors 1 and 2.

Your partner for this lab is: Lab 5 Partners

2. Lab Goals

  • Gain experience reading and tracing through the execution of IA32 assembly instructions.

  • Enhance your understanding of how assembly translates to C instructions, data structure access, and function calls.

  • Practice with tools for examining binary files.

  • Put your GDB skills to work to solve an assembly code puzzle.

3. Lab Overview

You have been sleep walking again, and you wake up on the roof of Parrish Hall. You need to find your way through its maze of floors and out of the building in time for your first class. The problem is that due to construction, there is no stairwell that connects more than two floors. As a result, you need to travel along each floor to find the next open stairwell down to the next floor below. However, there are people or things along your path that can trip you up and impede your progress, forcing you to run back to the roof to try again.

In this assignment, you and your partner are going to receive a binary maze program. Your maze has 5 phases, one for each floor of Parrish Hall (from the roof to out the door). Each floor’s phase is a binary puzzle that needs to be solved to move on to the next floor. To solve a puzzle you need to enter a correct phrase on stdin (you can also have your maze read phrases from a file given as a command line argument).

Your goal is to solve all phases/floors of your maze, limiting the number of times you trip-up along the way and have to start all over.

Your maze will automatically notify a central scoreboard every time you either trip-up or solve a floor for the first time.

4. Lab Starting Point Code

4.1. Getting Your Lab 5 Lab Repo

Both you and your partner should clone your Lab repo into your cs31/labs subdirectory:

  1. get your Lab ssh-URL from the CS31 git org. The repository to clone is named Lab05-user1-user2, where user1 and user2 are the user names of you and your lab partner.

  2. cd into your cs31/labs subdirectory:

    $ cd ~/cs31/labs
    $ pwd
  3. clone your repo

    $ git clone [your Lab05-user1-user2 url]
    $ cd Lab05-user1-user2
    $ ls
    README.md  maze_ID  how_we_solved.txt  soln.txt

The files in here include: README.md, maze_ID, maze_how_we_solved.txt, and soln.txt. The README.md contains details of what you’re expected to fill in for each of these other files.

There are more detailed instructions about getting your lab repo from the "Getting Lab Starting Point Code" section of the Using Git for CS31 Labs page.

4.2. Getting Your Maze: we will do this together in lab.

Each time you register on the maze server, you will receive a unique maze with unique solutions. For this reason, you should only perform the following steps once!

You must perform this next step from a CS lab machine.

  • First, cd into your cs31/labs/Lab05-user1-user2 subdirectory.

  • Next, only one of you will follow these steps to get your maze.

    1. In a browser on a CS lab machine, one of you or your partner should enter this url: http://sesame.cs.swarthmore.edu:8000/.

    2. Enter your CS user name and choose Submit.

    3. Choose to save the mazeX.tar file in the dialog box that pops up. (Note that X is a number: each group will get a different maze number. For example, you might get maze12.tar.) Save this .tar file into your Lab05-user1-user2 repository directory. If you are not able to choose your Lab05-user1-user2 directory as the download directory, then the file is likely saved in the Downloads directory in your home directory. Use the mv command to move it into your lab repo:

    $ cd ~/cs31/labs/Lab05-user1-user2
    $ mv ~/Downloads/mazeX.tar .  # replace X with your maze number
    1. Add your mazeX.tar file to your repo (replacing X with your maze number):

      $ git add mazeX.tar # replace X with your maze number
      $ git commit -m "our maze"
      $ git push

At this point, your partner can git pull and you can both untar your mazeX.tar file. A tar file is an archive file (a single file that contains a number of files). These files can be extracted by running the tar command:

$ cd ~/cs31/labs/Lab05-user1-user2
$ ls # NOTE: your maze.tar file will have a different number
$ tar xvf maze3.tar # NOTE: put your number here instead of mine
$ ls
maze*  maze3.tar  maze.c  README


Do not run the maze program yet!

4.3. Starting Point and Maze Program Code

The files included in your repo are:

  • maze_ID : a file into which you will add your maze ID (maze number).

  • how_we_solved.txt : a file into which you will add your description of how you solved each phase of your maze.

  • soln.txt: a file into which you will add the solution to each maze phase, one solution per line. You can use this file as input to your maze program.

The files included in your mazeX.tar file are:

  • main.c: contains the maze program’s main function. You can open main.c in vim (or another text editor) and see what the code is doing.

  • maze: contains your maze program binary. This is binary contains an IA32 maze (described below), that you need to solve for this lab. Do not run the maze program yet!

4.4. Checking the Status of your Maze

To check the status of your maze program, enter the following url into a browser (that is running on a CS machine): http://sesame.cs.swarthmore.edu:8000/scoreboard.

To view the scoreboard from the terminal, you can type the following command. It won’t be super pretty, but it will allow you to check the scoreboard if you aren’t working on a CS lab machine.

$ maze31scores

4.5. Running your Maze program

The maze program can be run both with and without your soln.txt input file (as you solve floors we recommend running with this). Do not run the maze program yet!

As you are solving your maze, you are almost always going to want to run it in gdb or ddd. You’ll likely want to start it in gdb, set breakpoints, and then run (with or without the soln.txt input file), in order to step through its execution:

$ gdb ./maze
(gdb) layout asm
(gdb) break main
(gdb) run                # run maze
                         #   OR
(gdb) run soln.txt       # run maze with your soln.txt input file

You can also just run your maze program from the command line but you probably don’t want to ever do that because you won’t know how to solve the maze this way!

$ ./maze
$ ./maze soln.txt

If you are afraid your maze is about to trip-up, just enter Control-C to kill it.

To make reporting work correctly, your maze will only run on one of the CS lab machines. The maze lab program and the browser connecting to the scoreboard must both be running on a CS machine.

If you want to work off campus, you should ssh into one of the lab machines and run your maze on a CS machine. See the remote access CS help page about how to do this.

5. Lab Details

The binary maze is a program that consists of a sequence of assembly language puzzles, one corresponding to each floor of Parrish that you need to pass through to get out the door. Each puzzle expects you to type a particular string when prompted. If you type the correct string, then the puzzle is solved and the maze program proceeds to the next floor. Otherwise, the maze program issues a trip-up message and terminates.

You will submit your lab solution in two parts:

  • Part 1: The Checkpoint: getting past the first two floors of your maze.

  • Part 2: The Complete Solution: getting past the first four floors of the maze and out the door. And submitting your write-up of how you solved the puzzle on each floor.

  • extra credit: solving floor 5. If you solve floor 5, to receive extra credit you must also include a description of how you solved it in your write-up.

The maze program is solved when every puzzle on every floor has been solved. You will be penalized for every trip-up that you let fully happen (1 point for every 4, rounded down), so you need to be careful not to trip-up too many times.

  • Solving the first 4 puzzles are each worth 10 points (40 pts total).

  • Solving the 5th puzzle is worth 5 extra credit points (this is not required, and you must include in your write-up a description of how you solved it to receive all 5 points).

  • Your write-up of how you solved each floor is worth 2 points for each floor (8 points total). Your write-up should be in the file how_we_solved.txt in your git repository.

Up to 5 points will be taken off total for trip-ups. You will lose a point for each 4th trip-up (number 4, 8, 12, …​), so you get a few trip-ups for free. I will not take off more than 5 points total for trip-ups, unless it is clear that you are trying a brute force approach.

5.1. Solving Your Maze

  • You must run your maze on one of the CS lab machines; the maze will always trip-up if run elsewhere. There are several other tamper-proofing devices built into the maze binary as well. In particular, using the gdb set command while trying to solve your maze will cause a trip-up.

To kill your maze executable (to make it exit without tripping-up), type Control-C. This way you can run your maze, solve a puzzle on a floor, and then exit and come back later to try the puzzle on the next floor.

  • You can use many tools to help you solve your maze. Look at the hints section below for some tips and ideas. The best way is to use gdb to step through the execution of the disassembled binary.

  • Although the puzzles on each floor get progressively harder to solve, the expertise you gain as you move from floor to floor should offset this difficulty.

  • Once you have solved the puzzle on a floor, I encourage you to run your maze with a soln.txt file containing the input phrases for the floors you have solved. The format of the file should be one phrase per line, in order of the maze floors. Using an input file will help to prevent you from accidentally tripping up in the maze on a previously solved floor. For example:

    ./maze soln.txt

    reads the input lines from soln.txt until it reaches EOF (end of file), and then switches over to stdin for the remaining input. This feature is also nice so you don’t have to keep retyping the solutions to floors you have already solved. The maze ignores blank input lines, both in the file and on stdin.

  • To avoid accidentally tripping up in the maze, you will need to learn how to single-step through the assembly code and how to set breakpoints. You will also need to learn how to inspect both the registers and the memory states. One of the nice side-effects of doing the lab is that you will get very good at using a debugger. This is a crucial skill that will pay big dividends the rest of your career!

6. Lab Requirements

  • You must solve your maze by examining it at the assembly code level using tools like gdb, strings, objdump, and other similar tools for examining binary files.

  • For the checkpoint you need to get past floors 1 and 2, and you need to edit the mazeID file and push it to your repo.

  • For the complete solution you need to get past floors 1-4, complete and submit the write-up of how you solved each floor, and submit the solution to each floor.

Write-up Requirements (for the completed solution only)

  • Edit how_we_solved.txt in an editor to include a short explanation of how you solved each floor and a short explanation of what each floor is doing.

  • Describe at a high-level what the original C code is doing for each floor. For example, is it doing some type of numeric computation, string processing, function calls, etc. and describe the specific computation it is doing (i.e. what type of string processing and how is that being used?).

  • Don’t describe in terms of registers and assembly code for this part, but describe what the puzzle on each floor is doing at a higher-level in terms of C semantics. You do not need to reverse engineer the assembly code and translate every part of it to equivalent C code. Instead, give a rough idea of equivalent C or pseudo code for the main part of the puzzle on each floor.

    For example, something like "uses an if-else to choose to do X or Y based on the input value Z" is an appropriate right level of explanation. Something like "moves the value at %ebp-8 into register %eax " is way too low-level.

  • The lab write-up lab should not be onerous; you should be able to explain each puzzle in a short paragraph or two (maybe with a few lines of C or pseudo code to help explain). I recommend doing the write-ups for each floor as you solve them.

  • Excessively verbose, low-level descriptions will be penalized, as will vague descriptions; you want to clearly demonstrate that you figured out what that floor is doing by examining the assembly code for each floor in your maze executable.

  • If you are unable to solve a floor, you can still receive partial credit for it in the write-up part by telling me what you have determined about that floor.

7. Tips

There are many ways of solving your maze. There are various tools for examining the program binary without running the maze program. These may provide some helpful information for solving some floors. The most useful tool will be gdb, which will allow you to run the maze program, set breakpoints, step through parts of its instruction’s execution, and examine its execution state. This will help you to discover information about what the program does, and you can use this information to solve your maze.

Remember that the maze program must be run on a CS machine. See Section 4.5 for information about how to run your maze, and how to run it remotely.

7.1. How not to solve the maze lab

Do not try to use brute force! You could write a program that tries every possible input string to find the right one. But this is no good for several reasons:

  1. You lose 1/4 point (up to a max of 5 points) every time you guess incorrectly and the maze trips-up. Every 4th trip-up is -1 points (3 trip-ups is -0 points).

  2. Every time you guess wrong, a message is sent to the mazelab server. You could very quickly saturate the network with these messages, and cause the system administrators to revoke your computer access.

  3. We haven’t told you how long the input strings are, nor have we told you what characters are in them. Even if you made the (incorrect) assumptions that they all are less than 80 characters long and only contain letters, then you will have 26^80 guesses for each floor. This will take a very very long time to run, and you will not get the answer before the assignment is due.

7.2. How to solve the maze lab!

There are many tools that are designed to help you figure out both how programs work, and what is wrong when they don’t work. Here is a list of some of the tools you may find useful in analyzing your maze, and hints on how to use them. And refer to the Week 6 weekly lab page for more information on using gdb and tools for examining binaries:

  • gdb ./maze The GNU debugger will be your most useful tool. You can trace through a program line by line, examine memory and registers, look at both the source code and assembly code (we are not giving you the source code for most of your maze), set breakpoints, and set memory watch points.

  • draw the stack and register contents as you are tracing through code in gdb, and take notes as you go (this will also help you with the write-up part of the lab assignment).

  • strings maze: display the printable strings in your maze.

  • objdump: objdump may provide some information that is helpful, but gdb will be your most useful tool

    • objdump -t maze prints out the maze’s symbol table. The symbol table includes the names of all functions and global variables in the maze, the names of all the functions the maze calls, and their addresses. You may learn something by looking at the function names.

    • objdump -d maze: disassemble all of the code in the maze. You can also just look at individual functions. Although objdump -d gives you a lot of information, it doesn’t tell you the whole story. Calls to system-level functions are displayed in a cryptic form. For example, a call to sscanf might appear as:

      8048c36:  e8 99 fc ff ff  call   80488d4 <_init+0x1a0>

      To determine what that call to sscanf is doing, you need to disassemble within a running maze program using gdb.

Looking for documentation about a particular tool? The man command will help you find documentation about unix utilities, and in gdb the help command will explain gdb commands:

$ man objdump

(gdb) help ni

Here is some more information about man

7.3. Notes on odd instructions or code sequences

You may find some code in your maze lab that uses instructions that we have not talked about in class. Here are some notes about some of these:

  • Stack canary code. You may see some odd code sequences around function return code that includes an instruction that looks like this: xor %gx:0x14,%eax. For example:

    0x56556a53 <+100>:    xor    %gs:0x14,%eax
    0x56556a5a <+107>:    jne    0x56556a61 <func+114>
    < function return instructions here>
    0x56556a61 <+114>:    call   0xf7eb1ee0 <__stack_chk_fail>

    You can ignore this sequence of instructions in figuring out the solution to a maze floor. You should, however, look at the <function return instructions here> parts of the code that are surrounded by this sequence of instructions.

    This is stack canary testing code that the compiler generates to check that the stack is not corrupted by the function’s execution (called a buffer overflow error). The code checks something called a stack canary that is used to detect buffer overflow. If the compared value doesn’t match the stack canary value then the stack has been corrupted and the __stack_check_fail function is called, likely terminating the program with a stack memory error. Here is some more information about what a stack canary is: stack canaries

  • Instructions that reference parts of registers. You may see code sequences that reference the lower half or lower quarter of a register. For example:

    mov    %al,-0xa1(%ebp)

    stores a 1 byte value from the lower byte in register eax to the specified address. Instructions with sub-registers are generated when the C code manipulates values that are smaller than 4-bytes, such as short or char values. Specific sub-bytes of the 4-byte register eax can be specified in instructions as registers: ah is the byte in bits 15-8 of register eax; al is the byte in bits 7-0 of register eax; and ax is the 2 byte value in bits 15-0 of register eax. See the lecture notes and the "Advanced Register Notation" section of the textbook for more information about the names of these portions of the general purpose registers.

8. Submitting

Whether or not you have solved a maze floor, and how many times you have tripped-up your maze is automatically submitted to the maze server by your maze program, but you still need to submit a few things via GitHub:

  1. For the checkpoint in addition to solving the first two floors, you need to fill in the maze_ID file with your maze number and the name of you and your partner.

  2. For the complete solution, you should additionally submit soln.txt, which contains the inputs you used to solve each floor, and how_we_solved.txt, a file the describes how you solved each floor, as detailed above. Note: Floor 5 is not required. If you solve it, you will receive extra credit, but you must also include a description of how you solved it in your write-up.

To submit your code, commit your changes locally using git add and git commit. Then run git push while in your lab directory. Only one partner needs to run the final git push, but make sure both partners have pulled and merged each others changes.

Here are the commands to submit your complete solution (from one of you or your partner’s cs31/labs/Lab05-user1-user2 directory:

$ git add how_we_solved.txt soln.txt mazeID
$ git commit -m "Lab 5 completed"
$ git push

If you have difficulty pushing your changes, see the "Troubleshooting" section and "can’t push" sections at the end of the Using Git for CS31 Labs page. And for more information and help with using git, see the git help page.

9. Handy Resources