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"Protecting the forward edge: Is that light at the end of the tunnel?"

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In recent years academia has been bombarded with a flurry of Control-Flow Integrity research with mitigation and attacks papers dominating the top tier conference landscape. Even as the life expectancy of a CFI -based mitigation paper has been limited to 6-12 months in this period, both Microsoft and Google found a way to harness part of this technology in a production setting. The key insight that both companies came up with simultaneously, was to focus on the protection of forward edges, where CFI brings significant benefit over existing solutions, while leaving the stack the be protected using traditional mitigation. In this talk I will describe and analyze the particularities of the forward edge protection schemes that Google successfully pushed into industry, highlighting unexpected/undocumented deficiencies in their VTable protection scheme. As a solution to these issues, I present a new design for VTable protection, including a testing methodology, which ensure an optimal protection scheme. The design was evaluated by modifying the VTable protection pushed into GCC by Google. The modifications do not affect application compatibility in any way relative to the existing solution (key factor in industrially accepted solutions), all the while preserving and even reducing overhead. In a way, we got to “have our cake and eat it too”.

This talk is part of the Microsoft Research Cambridge, public talks series.

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