Windows Vista Beta 2 includes a new defense against buffer overrun exploits called address space layout randomization. Not only is it in Beta 2, it’s on by default too. Now before I continue, I want to level set ASLR. It is not a panacea, it is not a replacement for insecure code, but when used in conjunction with other technologies, which I will explain shortly, it is a useful defense because it makes Windows systems look “different” to malware, making automated attacks harder.
So what is ASLR? In short, when you boot a Windows Vista Beta 2 computer, we load system code into different locations in memory. This helps defeat a well-understood attack called “return-to-libc”, where exploit code attempts to call a system function, such as the socket() function in wsock32.dll to open a socket, or LoadLibrary in kernel32.dll to load wsock32.dll in the first place. The job of ASLR is to move these function entry points around in memory so they are in unpredictable locations. In the case of Windows Vista Beta 2, a DLL or EXE could be loaded into any of 256 locations, which means an attacker has a 1/256 chance of getting the address right. In short, this makes it harder for exploits to work correctly.
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