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Entries posted in August 2019

Building a computer - part 3

1 August 2019 13:01

This is part three in my slow journey towards creating a home-brew Z80-based computer. My previous post demonstrated writing some simple code, and getting it running under an emulator. It also described my planned approach:

  • Hookup a Z80 processor to an Arduino Mega.
  • Run code on the Arduino to emulate RAM reads/writes and I/O.
  • Profit, via the learning process.

I expect I'll have to get my hands-dirty with a breadboard and naked chips in the near future, but for the moment I decided to start with the least effort. Erturk Kocalar has a website where he sells "shields" (read: expansion-boards) which contain a Z80, and which is designed to plug into an Arduino Mega with no fuss. This is a simple design, I've seen a bunch of people demonstrate how to wire up by hand, for example this post.

Anyway I figured I'd order one of those, and get started on the easy-part, the software. There was some sample code available from Erturk, but it wasn't ideal from my point of view because it mixed driving the Z80 with doing "other stuff". So I abstracted the core code required to interface with the Z80 and packaged it as a simple library.

The end result is that I have a z80 retroshield library which uses an Arduino mega to drive a Z80 with something as simple as this:

#include <z80retroshield.h>

// Our program, as hex.
unsigned char rom[32] =
    0x3e, 0x48, 0xd3, 0x01, 0x3e, 0x65, 0xd3, 0x01, 0x3e, 0x6c, 0xd3, 0x01,
    0xd3, 0x01, 0x3e, 0x6f, 0xd3, 0x01, 0x3e, 0x0a, 0xd3, 0x01, 0xc3, 0x16,

// Our helper-object
Z80RetroShield cpu;

// RAM I/O function handler.
char ram_read(int address)
    return (rom[address]) ;

// I/O function handler.
void io_write(int address, char byte)
    if (address == 1)

// Setup routine: Called once.
void setup()

    // Setup callbacks.
    // We have to setup a RAM-read callback, otherwise the program
    // won't be fetched from RAM and executed.

    // Then we setup a callback to be executed every time an "out (x),y"
    // instruction is encountered.

    // Configured.
    Serial.println("Z80 configured; launching program.");

// Loop function: Called forever.
void loop()
    // Step the CPU.

All the logic of the program is contained in the Arduino-sketch, and all the use of pins/ram/IO is hidden away. As a recap the Z80 will make requests for memory-contents, to fetch the instructions it wants to execute. For general purpose input/output there are two instructions that are used:

IN A, (1)   ; Read a character from STDIN, store in A-register.
OUT (1), A  ; Write the character in A-register to STDOUT

Here 1 is the I/O address, and this is an 8 bit number. At the moment I've just configured the callback such that any write to I/O address 1 is dumped to the serial console.

Anyway I put together a couple of examples of increasing complexity, allowing me to prove that RAM read/writes work, and that I/O reads and writes work.

I guess the next part is where I jump in complexity:

  • I need to wire a physical Z80 to a board.
  • I need to wire a PROM to it.
    • This will contain the program to be executed - hardcoded.
  • I need to provide power, and a clock to make the processor tick.

With a bunch of LEDs I'll have a Z80-system running, but it'll be isolated and hard to program. (Since I'll need to reflash the RAM/ROM-chip).

The next step would be getting it hooked up to a serial-console of some sort. And at that point I'll have a genuinely programmable standalone Z80 system.

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That time I didn't find a kernel bug, or did I?

14 August 2019 13:01

Recently I saw a post to the linux kernel mailing-list containing a simple fix for a use-after-free bug. The code in question originally read:

    hdr->pkcs7_msg = pkcs7_parse_message(buf + buf_len, sig_len);
    if (IS_ERR(hdr->pkcs7_msg)) {
        return PTR_ERR(hdr->pkcs7_msg);

Here the bug is obvious once it has been pointed out:

  • A structure is freed.
    • But then it is dereferenced, to provide a return value.

This is the kind of bug that would probably have been obvious to me if I'd happened to read the code myself. However patch submitted so job done? I did have some free time so I figured I'd scan for similar bugs. Writing a trivial perl script to look for similar things didn't take too long, though it is a bit shoddy:

  • Open each file.
  • If we find a line containing "free(.*)" record the line and the thing that was freed.
  • The next time we find a return look to see if the return value uses the thing that was free'd.
    • If so that's a possible bug. Report it.

Of course my code is nasty, but it looked like it immediately paid off. I found this snippet of code in linux-5.2.8/drivers/media/pci/tw68/tw68-video.c:

    if (hdl->error) {
        return hdl->error;

That looks promising:

  • The structure hdl is freed, via a dedicated freeing-function.
  • But then we return the member error from it.

Chasing down the code I found that linux-5.2.8/drivers/media/v4l2-core/v4l2-ctrls.c contains the code for the v4l2_ctrl_handler_free call and while it doesn't actually free the structure - just some members - it does reset the contents of hdl->error to zero.

Ahah! The code I've found looks for an error, and if it was found returns zero, meaning the error is lost. I can fix it, by changing to this:

    if (hdl->error) {
        int err = hdl->error;
        return err;

I did that. Then looked more closely to see if I was missing something. The code I've found lives in the function tw68_video_init1, that function is called only once, and the return value is ignored!

So, that's the story of how I scanned the Linux kernel for use-after-free bugs and contributed nothing to anybody.

Still fun though.

I'll go over my list more carefully later, but nothing else jumped out as being immediately bad.

There is a weird case I spotted in ./drivers/media/platform/s3c-camif/camif-capture.c with a similar pattern. In that case the function involved is s3c_camif_create_subdev which is invoked by ./drivers/media/platform/s3c-camif/camif-core.c:

        ret = s3c_camif_create_subdev(camif);
        if (ret < 0)
                goto err_sd;

So I suspect there is something odd there:

  • If there's an error in s3c_camif_create_subdev
    • Then handler->error will be reset to zero.
    • Which means that return handler->error will return 0.
    • Which means that the s3c_camif_create_subdev call should have returned an error, but won't be recognized as having done so.
    • i.e. "0 < 0" is false.

Of course the error-value is only set if this code is hit:

    hdl->buckets = kvmalloc_array(hdl->nr_of_buckets,
                      GFP_KERNEL | __GFP_ZERO);
    hdl->error = hdl->buckets ? 0 : -ENOMEM;

Which means that the registration of the sub-device fails if there is no memory, and at that point what can you even do?

It's a bug, but it isn't a security bug.