Code Pointer Protection From Buffer Overflow Through Targeted Hardware Encryption

Nathan Tuck, Brad Calder and George Varghese
December 1, 2003

Buffer overflow vulnerabilities are the most prevalent security vulnerabilities; they are responsible for over half of the CERT advisories issued in the last few years. Since many attacks exploit the buffer overflow vulnerability, techniques to prevent buffer overflow attacks would greatly increase the difficulty of writing a new worm. We prevent buffer overflows using hardware methods to guard unmodified binaries using automatic encryption of return addresses. In addition, we use the same encryption hardware to provide efficient security for general function pointer protection for modified binaries. Our solution provides security even when there there is potential for a read buffer attack, where an attacker is attempting to learn the key in order to mount a write buffer attack.

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