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Hardening software against memory errors and attacks

Albert Eugene Novark, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Programs written in C and C++ are susceptible to a number of memory errors, including buffer overflows and dangling pointers. At best, these errors cause crashes or performance degradation. At worst, they enable security vulnerabilities, allowing denial-of-service or remote code execution. Existing runtime systems provide little protection against these errors. They allow minor errors to cause crashes and allow attackers to consistently exploit vulnerabilities. In this thesis, we introduce a series of runtime systems that protect deployed applications from memory errors. To guide the design of our systems, we analyze how errors interact with memory allocators to allow consistent exploitation of vulnerabilities. Our systems improve software in two ways: first, they tolerate memory errors, allowing programs to continue proper execution. Second, they decrease the probability of successfully exploiting security vulnerabilities caused by memory errors. Our first system, Archipelago, protects exceptionally sensitive server applications against severe errors using an object-per-page randomized allocator. It provides near-100% protection against most buffer overflows. Our second system, DieHarder, combines ideas from Archipelago, DieHard, and other systems to enable maximal protection against attacks while incurring minimal runtime and memory overhead. Our final system, Exterminator, automatically corrects heap-based buffer overflows and dangling pointers without requiring programmer intervention. Exterminator relies on both a low-overhead randomized allocator and statistical inference techniques to automatically isolate and correct errors in deployed applications.

Subject Area

Computer science

Recommended Citation

Novark, Albert Eugene, "Hardening software against memory errors and attacks" (2011). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3445176.