Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC) 2017

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ECFI: Asynchronous Control Flow Integrity for Programmable Logic Controllers

Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) are a family of embedded devices that are being used to control physical processes in critical infrastructures. Similar to other embedded devices, PLCs are vulnerable to memory corruption and control-flow hijacking attacks. Because PLCs are being used for critical control applications, compromised PLCs constitute a significant security and safety risk. In this paper, we introduce a novel, PLC-compatible control-flow integrity (CFI) mechanism named ECFI to protect such devices from control-flow hijacking attacks. Our CFI approach is the first system for real-time PLCs and considers the runtime operation of the PLC as the highest priority. We implemented a prototype of ECFI and tested it in a real-world industrial PLC against different kinds of attacks. Our performance evaluation demonstrates that ECFI is an efficient, non-intrusive CFI solution that does not impose notable performance overhead and maintains the timeliness of PLC runtime operations, a critical property for this kind of embedded systems.

Ali Abbasi
University of Twente

Thorsten Holz
Ruhr University Bochum

Emmanuele Zambon
SecurityMatters B.V

Sandro Etalle
Eindhoven University of Techology


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