Netanel Rubin held a talk about an alleged 20 year old vulnerability in perl named "The Perl Jam: Exploiting a 20 Year-old Vulnerability" at 31C3 [PDF].

Basically he claims that this is a problem:

my @a = qw(8 foo 666);
my %h = (foo => 100,
	 bar => 333,
	 san => @a);
print Dumper(\%h);

$VAR1 = { 'san' => 8, 'bar' => 333, 'foo' => 666 };

As you can see, the array @a is assigned as a value to the key 'san' of the hash %h. But since it's not assigned as a array reference, the array dissolves into the hash and its values overwrite the keys 'foo' and 'san'.

The "vulnerability" Netanel found, is in the CGI module. The method 'param()' of this module returns an array if a CGI parameter occurs more than once. If the output of that method is being used unchecked in a hash assignment as shown above, then it is possible to overwrite certain values of that hash. This leaded for example to the vulnerability CVE-2014-1572 in Bugzilla.

Netanel's conclusion: perl is broken, horrible, hazardous, bizarre and should not be used anymore.


He is wrong on multiple levels. Arrays dissolving into hashes is not a bug and not bad, but intended behavior and very well documented. In fact, I use it alot. I even love it! If you take a look into the function new() of about 80% of all perl modules on CPAN, you'll find, that they support hash arguments, and feed @_ into a hash. Pretty standard for perl people. Others might find it ugly or weird, but hey, it's a free world (mostly), choose another language if you don't like the concept.

Then Netanel has been asked if he knows about references and in response complained about using a backslash in order to assign a reference to a hash (or array) to a variable. He called it "escaping", but that's utter nonsense. \%hash ist pure perl syntax, not escaping.

The talk sounds funny in the first place, but is unsubstancial. Yes there are flaws in perl code which uses in the wrong way. But that's not a perl problem, it's a problem. And it's solved since a long time. Modern web stuff written in perl uses Dancer, Mojolicious or Catalyst and not