Extracting text from the memory image of a running process

I found a really nasty problem with the bug tracker we use at work last week. If someone else posts to it whilst you are composing your comment it refuses to accept it. It doesn’t offer a “post comment anyway” feature and advises instead that you:

  • Press Back
  • Select the comment you have just written
  • Copy it to the clipboard
  • Reload the page in your browser
  • Paste the comment back into the text field

Other than the obvious epic fail regarding usability there is one additional problem in the instructions above. When you press back the rich text editing widget no longer has your comment in it! That’s right. Forty five minutes expressing my highly insightful view point as clearly as possible… gone.


I could tell the text was still there because I could press Forward and refresh but I just couldn’t see it.

At this point I fired up wireshark to try and capture my work as it went out over the network. This was when I realized that the bug tracker was using SSL and trying to launch a man-in-the-middle attach on myself was likely a waste of time.

So, the last resort of the desperate(ly lazy) is to grab the data from the memory image itself. That should be dead easy, I’ve been running GNU/Linux at home for almost fifteen years. I must have learnt my way around by now. Surely I just attach to a running process and dump its memory.

Having got the PID of the firefox process I fired up gdb:

 butch$ gdb
 GNU gdb (GDB) Fedora (
 Copyright (C) 2011 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
 License GPLv3+: GNU GPL version 3 or later
 This is free software: you are free to change and redistribute it.
 There is NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law. Type "show
 copying" and "show warranty" for details.
 This GDB was configured as "i686-redhat-linux-gnu".
 For bug reporting instructions, please see:
 (gdb) attach 23639
 Attaching to process 23639
 /usr/lib/firefox/firefox (deleted): No such file or directory.

At this point I tried the gcore command. No luck there either. gdb couldn’t figure out the memory ranges it needed to dump. Still I’m not one to give up. After trying and failing to scan /proc/23639/mem I decide to scan the list of the memory mappings and dump each one. When I discovered that firefox had over 700 blocks of mapped memory I decided to generate a gdb script to dump the memory automatically:

cat /proc/23639/maps \
| cut -d' ' -f1 \
| tr '-' ' ' \
| awk '{ print "dump memory core-" $1 "-" $2 " 0x" $1 " 0x" $2 }' \
> dumpmem.gdb

It worked. I have the memory in files. From here things get much easier:

cat core-* | strings | grep -C 40 BD-ROM | less