Public Vulnerability Reports

Integer Overflow in pdftops



Easy Software Products' Common Unix Printing System (CUPS) is a cross-platform printing solution for Unix environments. It is based on the "Internet Printing Protocol," and provides complete printing services to most PostScript and raster printers. CUPS has a web-based graphical interface for printer management and is available on most Linux systems. More information is available at .

Xpdf is an open source viewer for Portable Document Format (PDF) files. The Xpdf project also includes a PDF text extractor, PDF-to-PostScript converter, and various other utilities.  It also comes with two other programs: pdftops and pdftotext which convert PDF files to postscript and plain text respectively.  More information is available at .


The pdftops filter in the Xpdf and CUPS packages contains an integer overflow that can be exploited to gain the privileges of the target user or in some cases the increased privileges of the 'lp' user if installed setuid. There are multiple ways of exploiting this vulnerability. The following is just one example:

A ColorSpace with 1,431,655,768 elements is created, each element having three components. 1,431,655,768 is too large to store within a 32-bit integer so the high bit is cut off leaving only 8 which is how much that is actually allocated.

  7 0 R

The '7 0 R' from above refers to a stream that is read into an array that is allocated as above. The stream is read until it has reached the highest index number, or the stream ends. If the filter supplies enough data the application will crash when trying to access bad memory. It is possible to exploit this condition by supplying the right length of bad memory, and stop the stream breaking the reading. A function pointer can then be overwritten to execute arbitrary code. Example:

7 0 obj <<
/Length 229
content to write into memory....endstream

The following is a sample run of the cups-pdf exploit running with the user's privileges:

$ ./cups-pdf | lp
request id is lp-108 (1 file(s))
$ ls -l /tmp/pdfexploit-worked
- - - - -rw-rw-r-- 1 farmer farmer 0 Dec 4 13:41 /tmp/pdfexploit-worked


This vulnerability is locally exploitable.  In order to perform "remote" exploitation, an attacker must trick a user into printing a malformed PDF file from the command line.  In the implementation cases where "lp" user privileges are attainable, more advanced attacks can be performed to gain local root access (see iDEFENSE Advisory 12.19.02).


The vulnerability exists in the latest stable version of Xpdf (Xpdf 2.01) and all prior versions.  The vulnerability was verified on Red Hat Linux 7.0 running CUPS-1.1.14-5 (RPM).   


A patch supplied by the author of Xpdf is available from which fixes this issue in pdftops when applied to the latest source code version, 2.01.  Additionally, the latest version of CUPS, 1.1.18, should also fix this issue within the included pdftops utility.  It is available from .


The Mitre Corp.'s Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) Project assigned the identification number CAN-2002-1384 to this issue.


10/27/2002       Initial discussion with contributor
11/14/2002       Final contributor submission
12/12/2002       CUPS author and Xdf author notified via e-mail to
12/12/2002       iDEFENSE clients notified
12/12/2002       Response and preliminary patch received from
12/12/2002       Apple, Linux Security List (
12/13/2002       Updated patch received from Michael Sweet
12/17/2002       Patch received from Derek B. Noonburg
12/23/2002       Coordinated Public Disclosure


zen-parse ( discovered this issue.