Execution transactions for defending against software failures: use and evaluation

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 enable selectively 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, automatically adapt an application's defensive posture at a negligible performance cost, and help determine worm signatures. Our scheme provides low impact on application performance, the ability to respond to attacks without human intervention, the capacity to handle previously unknown vulnerabilities, and the preservation of service availability. We implement 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 selective protection. We provide preliminary evidence toward the validity of 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 cases (90%), with similar results for sshd (89%) and Bind (88%).



Also Published In

International Journal of Information Security

More About This Work

Academic Units
Computer Science
Published Here
July 10, 2012