Publications

Refine Results

(Filters Applied) Clear All

Cross-language attacks

Published in:
Network and Distributed System Security (NDSS) Symposium 2022.

Summary

Memory corruption attacks against unsafe programming languages like C/C++ have been a major threat to computer systems for multiple decades. Various sanitizers and runtime exploit mitigation techniques have been shown to only provide partial protection at best. Recently developed ‘safe’ programming languages such as Rust and Go hold the promise to change this paradigm by preventing memory corruption bugs using a strong type system and proper compile-time and runtime checks. Gradual deployment of these languages has been touted as a way of improving the security of existing applications before entire applications can be developed in safe languages. This is notable in popular applications such as Firefox and Tor. In this paper, we systematically analyze the security of multi-language applications. We show that because language safety checks in safe languages and exploit mitigation techniques applied to unsafe languages (e.g., Control-Flow Integrity) break different stages of an exploit to prevent control hijacking attacks, an attacker can carefully maneuver between the languages to mount a successful attack. In essence, we illustrate that the incompatible set of assumptions made in various languages enables attacks that are not possible in each language alone. We study different variants of these attacks and analyze Firefox to illustrate the feasibility and extent of this problem. Our findings show that gradual deployment of safe programming languages, if not done with extreme care, can indeed be detrimental to security.
READ LESS

Summary

Memory corruption attacks against unsafe programming languages like C/C++ have been a major threat to computer systems for multiple decades. Various sanitizers and runtime exploit mitigation techniques have been shown to only provide partial protection at best. Recently developed ‘safe’ programming languages such as Rust and Go hold the promise...

READ MORE

Preventing Kernel Hacks with HAKCs

Published in:
Network and Distributed System Security (NDSS) Symposium 2022.

Summary

Commodity operating system kernels remain monolithic for practical and historical reasons. All kernel code shares a single address space, executes with elevated processor privileges, and has largely unhindered access to all data, including data irrelevant to the completion of a specific task. Applying the principle of least privilege, which limits available resources only to those needed to perform a particular task, to compartmentalize the kernel would realize major security gains, similar to microkernels yet without the major redesign effort. Here, we introduce a compartmentalization design, called a Hardware-Assisted Kernel Compartmentalization (HAKC), that approximates least privilege separation, while minimizing both developer effort and performance overhead. HAKC divides code and data into separate partitions, and specifies an access policy for each partition. Data is owned by a single partition, and a partition’s access-control policy is enforced at runtime, preventing unauthorized data access. When a partition needs to transfer control flow to outside itself, data ownership is transferred to the target, and transferred back upon return. The HAKC design allows for isolating code and data from the rest of the kernel, without utilizing any additional Trusted Computing Base while compartmentalized code is executing. Instead, HAKC relies on hardware for enforcement. Loadable kernel modules (LKMs), which dynamically load kernel code and data providing specialized functionality, are the single largest part of the Linux source base. Unfortunately, their collective size and complexity makes LKMs the cause of the majority of CVEs issued for the Linux kernel. The combination of a large attack surface in kernel modules, and the monolithic design of the Linux kernel, make LKMs ideal candidates for compartmentalization. To demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach, we implement HAKC in Linux v5.10 using extensions to the Arm v8.5-A ISA, and compartmentalize the ipv6.ko LKM, which consists of over 55k LOC. The average overhead measured in Apachebench tests was just 1.6%–24%. Additionally, we compartmentalize the nf_tables.ko packet filtering LKM, and measure the combined impact of using both LKMs. We find a reasonable linear growth in overhead when both compartmentalized LKMs are used. Finally, we measure no significant difference in performance when using the compartmentalized ipv6.ko LKM over the unmodified LKM during real-world web browsing experiments on the Alexa Top 50 websites.
READ LESS

Summary

Commodity operating system kernels remain monolithic for practical and historical reasons. All kernel code shares a single address space, executes with elevated processor privileges, and has largely unhindered access to all data, including data irrelevant to the completion of a specific task. Applying the principle of least privilege, which limits...

READ MORE

Keeping Safe Rust safe with Galeed

Published in:
Annual Computer Security Applications Conf., ACSAC, December 2021, pp. 824-36.

Summary

Rust is a programming language that simultaneously offers high performance and strong security guarantees. Safe Rust (i.e., Rust code that does not use the unsafe keyword) is memory and type safe. However, these guarantees are violated when safe Rust interacts with unsafe code, most notably code written in other programming languages, including in legacy C/C++ applications that are incrementally deploying Rust. This is a significant problem as major applications such as Firefox, Chrome, AWS, Windows, and Linux have either deployed Rust or are exploring doing so. It is important to emphasize that unsafe code is not only unsafe itself, but also it breaks the safety guarantees of ‘safe’ Rust; e.g., a dangling pointer in a linked C/C++ library can access and overwrite memory allocated to Rust even when the Rust code is fully safe. This paper presents Galeed, a technique to keep safe Rust safe from interference from unsafe code. Galeed has two components: a runtime defense to prevent unintended interactions between safe Rust and unsafe code and a sanitizer to secure intended interactions. The runtime component works by isolating Rust’s heap from any external access and is enforced using Intel Memory Protection Key (MPK) technology. The sanitizer uses a smart data structure that we call pseudo-pointer along with automated code transformation to avoid passing raw pointers across safe/unsafe boundaries during intended interactions (e.g., when Rust and C++ code exchange data). We implement and evaluate the effectiveness and performance of Galeed via micro- and macro-benchmarking, and use it to secure a widely used component of Firefox.
READ LESS

Summary

Rust is a programming language that simultaneously offers high performance and strong security guarantees. Safe Rust (i.e., Rust code that does not use the unsafe keyword) is memory and type safe. However, these guarantees are violated when safe Rust interacts with unsafe code, most notably code written in other programming...

READ MORE

Practical principle of least privilege for secure embedded systems

Published in:
2021 IEEE 27th Real-Time and Embedded Technology and Applications Symp., RTAS. 18-21 May 2021.

Summary

Many embedded systems have evolved from simple bare-metal control systems to highly complex network-connected systems. These systems increasingly demand rich and feature-full operating-systems (OS) functionalities. Furthermore, the network connectedness offers attack vectors that require stronger security designs. To that end, this paper defines a prototypical RTOS API called Patina that provides services common in featurerich OSes (e.g., Linux) but absent in more trustworthy u-kernel-based systems. Examples of such services include communication channels, timers, event management, and synchronization. Two Patina implementations are presented, one on Composite and the other on seL4, each of which is designed based on the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP) to increase system security. This paper describes how each of these u-kernels affect the PoLP-based design, as well as discusses security and performance tradeoffs in the two implementations. Results of comprehensive evaluations demonstrate that the performance of the PoLP-based implementation of Patina offers comparable or superior performance to Linux, while offering heightened isolation.
READ LESS

Summary

Many embedded systems have evolved from simple bare-metal control systems to highly complex network-connected systems. These systems increasingly demand rich and feature-full operating-systems (OS) functionalities. Furthermore, the network connectedness offers attack vectors that require stronger security designs. To that end, this paper defines a prototypical RTOS API called Patina that...

READ MORE

A cybersecurity moonshot

Author:
Published in:
IEEE Secur. Priv., Vol. 19, No. 3, May-June 2021, pp. 8-16.

Summary

Cybersecurity needs radical rethinking to change its current landscape. This article charts a vision for a cybersecurity moonshot based on radical but feasible technologies that can prevent the largest classes of vulnerabilities in modern systems.
READ LESS

Summary

Cybersecurity needs radical rethinking to change its current landscape. This article charts a vision for a cybersecurity moonshot based on radical but feasible technologies that can prevent the largest classes of vulnerabilities in modern systems.

READ MORE

More than a fair share: Network Data Remanence attacks against secret sharing-based schemes

Published in:
Network and Distributed Systems Security Symp., NDSS, 23-26 February 2021.

Summary

With progress toward a practical quantum computer has come an increasingly rapid search for quantum-safe, secure communication schemes that do not rely on discrete logarithm or factorization problems. One such encryption scheme, Multi-path Switching with Secret Sharing (MSSS), combines secret sharing with multi-path switching to achieve security as long as the adversary does not have global observability of all paths and thus cannot capture enough shares to reconstruct messages. MSSS assumes that sending a share on a path is an atomic operation and all paths have the same delay. In this paper, we identify a side-channel vulnerability for MSSS, created by the fact that in real networks, sending a share is not an atomic operation as paths have multiple hops and different delays. This channel, referred to as Network Data Remanence (NDR), is present in all schemes like MSSS whose security relies on transfer atomicity and all paths having same delay. We demonstrate the presence of NDR in a physical testbed. We then identify two new attacks that aim to exploit the side channel, referred to as NDR Blind and NDR Planned, propose an analytical model to analyze the attacks, and demonstrate them using an implementation of MSSS based on the ONOS SDN controller. Finally, we present a countermeasure for the attacks and show its effectiveness in simulations and Mininet experiments.
READ LESS

Summary

With progress toward a practical quantum computer has come an increasingly rapid search for quantum-safe, secure communication schemes that do not rely on discrete logarithm or factorization problems. One such encryption scheme, Multi-path Switching with Secret Sharing (MSSS), combines secret sharing with multi-path switching to achieve security as long as...

READ MORE

Hardware foundation for secure computing

Published in:
2020 IEEE High Performance Extreme Computing Conf., HPEC, 22-24 September 2020.

Summary

Software security solutions are often considered to be more adaptable than their hardware counterparts. However, software has to work within the limitations of the system hardware platform, of which the selection is often dictated by functionality rather than security. Performance issues of security solutions without proper hardware support are easy to understand. The real challenge, however, is in the dilemma of "what should be done?" vs. "what could be done?" Security software could become ineffective if its "liberal" assumptions, e.g., the availability of a substantial trusted computing base (TCB) on the hardware platform, are violated. To address this dilemma, we have been developing and prototyping a security-by-design hardware foundation platform that enhances mainstream microprocessors with proper hardware security primitives to support and enhance software security solutions. This paper describes our progress in the use of a customized security co-processor to provide security services.
READ LESS

Summary

Software security solutions are often considered to be more adaptable than their hardware counterparts. However, software has to work within the limitations of the system hardware platform, of which the selection is often dictated by functionality rather than security. Performance issues of security solutions without proper hardware support are easy...

READ MORE

Control systems need software security too: cyber-physical systems and safety-critical application domains must adopt widespread effective software defenses

Author:
Published in:
SIGNAL Mag., 1 June 2020.

Summary

Low-level embedded control systems are increasingly being targeted by adversaries, and there is a strong need for stronger software defenses for such systems. The cyber-physical nature of such systems impose real-time performance constraints not seen in enterprise computing systems, and such constraints fundamentally alter how software defenses should be designed and applied. MIT Lincoln Laboratory scientists demonstrated that current randomization-based defenses, which have low average-case overhead, can incur significant worst-case overhead that may be untenable in real-time applications, while some low-overhead enforcement-based defenses have low worst-case performance overheads making them more amenable to real-time applications. Such defenses should be incorporated into a comprehensive resilient architecture with a strategy for failover and timely recovery in the case of a cyber threat.
READ LESS

Summary

Low-level embedded control systems are increasingly being targeted by adversaries, and there is a strong need for stronger software defenses for such systems. The cyber-physical nature of such systems impose real-time performance constraints not seen in enterprise computing systems, and such constraints fundamentally alter how software defenses should be designed...

READ MORE

One giant leap for computer security

Summary

Today's computer systems trace their roots to an era of trusted users and highly constrained hardware; thus, their designs fundamentally emphasize performance and discount security. This article presents a vision for how small steps using existing technologies can be combined into one giant leap for computer security.
READ LESS

Summary

Today's computer systems trace their roots to an era of trusted users and highly constrained hardware; thus, their designs fundamentally emphasize performance and discount security. This article presents a vision for how small steps using existing technologies can be combined into one giant leap for computer security.

READ MORE

Automated discovery of cross-plane event-based vulnerabilities in software-defined networking

Summary

Software-defined networking (SDN) achieves a programmable control plane through the use of logically centralized, event-driven controllers and through network applications (apps) that extend the controllers' functionality. As control plane decisions are often based on the data plane, it is possible for carefully crafted malicious data plane inputs to direct the control plane towards unwanted states that bypass network security restrictions (i.e., cross-plane attacks). Unfortunately, because of the complex interplay among controllers, apps, and data plane inputs, at present it is difficult to systematically identify and analyze these cross-plane vulnerabilities. We present EVENTSCOPE, a vulnerability detection tool that automatically analyzes SDN control plane event usage, discovers candidate vulnerabilities based on missing event-handling routines, and validates vulnerabilities based on data plane effects. To accurately detect missing event handlers without ground truth or developer aid, we cluster apps according to similar event usage and mark inconsistencies as candidates. We create an event flow graph to observe a global view of events and control flows within the control plane and use it to validate vulnerabilities that affect the data plane. We applied EVENTSCOPE to the ONOS SDN controller and uncovered 14 new vulnerabilities.
READ LESS

Summary

Software-defined networking (SDN) achieves a programmable control plane through the use of logically centralized, event-driven controllers and through network applications (apps) that extend the controllers' functionality. As control plane decisions are often based on the data plane, it is possible for carefully crafted malicious data plane inputs to direct the...

READ MORE