Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC) 2020

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HeapExpo: Pinpointing Promoted Pointers to Prevent Use-After-Free Vulnerabilities

Use-after-free (UAF) vulnerabilities, in which dangling pointers remain after memory is released, remain a persistent problem for applications written in C and C++. In order to protect legacy code, prior work has attempted to track pointer propagation and invalidate dangling pointers at deallocation time, but this work has gaps in coverage, as it lacks support for tracking program variables promoted to CPU registers. Moreover, we find that these gaps can significantly hamper detection of UAF bugs: in a preliminary study with OSS-Fuzz, we found that more than half of the UAFs in real-world programs we examined (10/19) could not be detected by prior systems due to register promotion. In this paper, we introduce HeapExpo, a new system that fills this gap in coverage by parsimoniously identifying potential dangling pointer variables that may be lifted into registers by the compiler and marking them as volatile. In our experiments, we find that HeapExpo effectively detects UAFs missed by other systems with an overhead of 53% on the majority of SPEC CPU2006 and 83% when including two benchmarks that have high amounts of pointer propagation.

Zekun Shen
New York University

Brendan Dolan-Gavitt
New York University

Paper (ACM DL)




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