FreeSentry: Protecting Against Use-After-Free Vulnerabilities Due to Dangling Pointers
Download: Paper (PDF)
Date: 8 Feb 2015
Document Type: Briefing Papers
Additional Documents: Slides
Associated Event: NDSS Symposium 2015
Use-after-free vulnerabilities have become an important class of security problems due to the existence of mitigations that protect against other types of vulnerabilities. The effects of their exploitation can be just as devastating as exploiting a buffer overflow, potentially resulting in full code execution within the vulnerable program. Few protections exist against these types of vulnerabilities and they are particularly hard to fix through manual code inspection. In this paper we present FreeSentry: a mitigation that protects against use-after- free vulnerabilities by inserting dynamic runtime checks that invalidate pointers when the associated memory is released. If such an invalidated pointer is accessed, the program will subsequently crash, preventing an attacker from exploiting the vulnerability. When checking dynamically allocated memory, our approach has a moderate performance overhead on the SPEC CPU benchmarks: running with a geometric mean performance impact of around 25%. It has no overhead when deployed on widely used server side daemons such as OpenSSH or the Apache HTTP daemon. FreeSentry also discovered a previously unknown use-after-free vulnerability in one of the programs in SPEC CPU2000 benchmarks: perlbmk. This vulnerability seems to have been missed by other mitigations.