Using Execution Transactions To Recover From Buffer Overflow Attacks

Sidiroglou, Stelios; Keromytis, Angelos D.

We examine the problem of containing buffer overflow attacks in a safe and efficient manner. Briefly, we automatically augment source code to dynamically catch stack and heap-based buffer overflow and underflow attacks, and recover from them by allowing the program to continue execution. Our hypothesis is that we can treat each code function as a transaction that can be aborted when an attack is detected, without affecting the application's ability to correctly execute. Our approach allows us to selectively enable or disable components of this defensive mechanism in response to external events, allowing for a direct tradeoff between security and performance. We combine our defensive mechanism with a honeypot-like configuration to detect previously unknown attacks and automatically adapt an application's defensive posture at a negligible performance cost, as well as help determine a worm's signature. The main benefits of our scheme are its low impact on application performance, its ability to respond to attacks without human intervention, its capacity to handle previously unknown vulnerabilities, and the preservation of service availability. We implemented a stand-alone tool, DYBOC, which we use to instrument a number of vulnerable applications. Our performance benchmarks indicate a slow-down of 20% for Apache in full-protection mode, and 1.2% with partial protection. We validate our transactional hypothesis via two experiments: first, by applying our scheme to 17 vulnerable applications, successfully fixing 14 of them; second, by examining the behavior of Apache when each of 154 potentially vulnerable routines are made to fail, resulting in correct behavior in 139 of cases.



More About This Work

Academic Units
Computer Science
Department of Computer Science, Columbia University
Columbia University Computer Science Technical Reports, CUCS-031-04
Published Here
April 22, 2011