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Detecting past and present intrusions through vulnerability-specific predicates. Ashlesha Joshi, Sam King, George Dunlap, and Peter Chen. Index. Authors Motivation & Introduction Goals Challenges & Solutions Evaluation Related work Conclusion. Author group.

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detecting past and present intrusions through vulnerability specific predicates

Detecting past and present intrusions through vulnerability-specific predicates

Ashlesha Joshi, Sam King,

George Dunlap, and Peter Chen

  • Authors
  • Motivation & Introduction
  • Goals
  • Challenges & Solutions
  • Evaluation
  • Related work
  • Conclusion
author group
Author group
  • EECS DepartmentUniversity of Michigan
  • Peter M. Chen is the leader of the group, and the other 3 authors are his students.
  • The group is investigating how to add security services through virtual machines.
  • Paper: Operating System Support for Virtual Machines USENIX 2003
  • Ashlesha Joshi

Ph.D in Computer Science,

University of Michigan


Samuel T. King

2006 Ph.D University of Michigan

Now in University of Illinois at Urbanna-Champain

Research areas: Operating System, Security and VM.

important papers:

  • Virtualization and Security: Back to the Future IEEE S&P 2008
  • SubVirt: Implementing malware with virtual machines IEEE S&P2006
  • Capo: a software-hardware interface for practical deterministic multiprocessor replay



George Washington Dunlap

Ph.D University of Michigan

Research areas: Operating System , VM.

important papers:

  • Execution replay of multiprocessor virtual machines VEE’08
  • Debugging operating systems with time-traveling virtual machines ATEC '05

Peter M. Chen

1992,Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of California at Berkeley ,

Research areas:

Operating Systems, Databases, Distributed Systems.

important papers:

  • Tolerating latency in replicated state machines through client speculation NSDI’09
  • Execution replay of multiprocessor virtual machines VEE,08
  • Rethink the sync OSDI’06
  • Backtracking intrusions SOSP’03

vulnerability introduced

patch released

Vulnerability discovered

patch applied



  • Software contains bugs, including flaws that may be exploited by an attacker
  • Some time passes before vendor becomes aware of bug
  • Software vendors try to release patches quickly

vulnerability introduced

vulnerability introduced

patch released

patch released

Vulnerability discovered

patch applied

patch applied




  • Was this vulnerability triggered on my machine in the past?
  • Can I somehow protect my system before I install the patch?
  • Patch writer knows exactly what conditions during program execution indicate triggering of vulnerability
  • Use this knowledge to write vulnerability-specific predicates that check these conditions
    • No false positives or false negatives
an example
An example

1 char *str = some_string;

2 int length = strlen (str);

3 char buf [BUFSIZE];

4 strcpy(buf,str); // D’oh!

Predicate: (length >= BUFSIZE)


vulnerability introduced

patch released

patch applied





Using replay, detect if vulnerability was triggered in past

Monitor ongoing execution to detect and respond to attempts to trigger vulnerability


The system must…

  • Not perturb the target software
  • Work for both OS and application-level vulnerabilities
  • Allow predicates to be installed dynamically
  • Allow predicates to be written easily
  • Have low overhead
challenge 1 where do predicates execute
Challenge #1: Where do predicates execute?

On a normal computer, software runs either as a user-level application or in the operating system kernel. Neither of these locations is suitable for executing predicates because predicates should run outside the target system to avoid perturbing its state.

introvirt structure
IntroVirt structure








guest OS


host OS



challenge 2 semantic gap
Challenge #2: Semantic gap

Problem: VMM exposes guest state at the wrong level of abstraction

  • It gives us registers, memory locations, disk blocks, …
  • We want program variables, files, …

1 uid = getuid();

2// forget to check group membership

3 perform privileged action


  • Perform missing authentication, e.g., read /etc/group
bridging the semantic gap
Bridging the semantic gap
  • How could the programmer write this predicate?
    • Determine memory location where uid is stored; if page not resident, read from disk; read value of uid; traverse guest OS file system structures to see if /etc/group in file cache, if so, read from memory; if not, traverse FS structures to see which disk blocks contain it, then read blocks from disk; …
    • i.e., emulate guest functionality
  • Our solution: call guest code
    • Leverages existing guest code that does what we want
    • Here, we cause the guest itself to read the file and check group membership
challenge 3 avoiding perturbations to target state
Challenge #3: Avoiding perturbations to target state
  • Calling guest functions perturbs target
  • Solution: use checkpoint and restore
    • Take a checkpoint before changing guest state
    • Restore to checkpoint after predicate execution
  • Also protects from (buggy) predicates that modify guest state incorrectly
challenge 4 preemptions between the predicate and the bug
Challenge #4: Preemptions between the predicate and the bug
  • the state checked by the predicate can change after the predicate executes but before the state is used by the vulnerable code.
predicate refresh
Predicate refresh
  • Detect and respond to race
    • “Predicate refresh”
    • Observation: in uniprocessors, a scheduling event must occur before any other process can run
    • Re-execute predicate on scheduling events to detect relevant changes in state
  • The system has 5 goals. Goal 1,2,3 are met by design.
    • Goal 4:Allow predicates to be written easily and

goal 5:low overhead, are the main evaluation objectives.

example predicates
Example Predicates
  • CAN-2003-096:
  • This bug involves a missing bounds check in the Linux kernel’s do_brk function
  • The function neglects to check for integer overflow and to check if the process is trying to expand its heap above the address TASK SIZE. The patch consists of the following code, inserted before line 1044 of mmap.c
predicate for can 2003 0961
Predicate for CAN-2003-0961

Actual Patch:

if((addr + len) > TASK_SIZE || (addr + len) < addr)

return –EINVAL;


registerBreak(“mmap.c:1044:begin”, brkEventHandler);

void brkEventHandler() {

unsigned long addr = readVar(“addr”);

unsigned long len = readVar(“len”);

if((addr+len) > TASK_SIZE || (addr+len) < addr) {

cout << “brk bug triggered” << endl;



can 2002 0656
  • Vulnerability:

static int get_client_master_key(SSL *s) {


s->session->key_arg_length=i; // line 419



  • Patch:




return -1; }



void sslEventHandler() {

unsigned long i = readVar("i");


// "kill process" response strategy



  • Wrote predicates for 20 real vulnerabilities (Linux kernel, bind, emacs, gv, imapd, OpenSSL, php, smbd, squid, wu-ftpd, xpdf)
    • Easy to write once vulnerability is understood
    • Length and complexity comparable to patch
    • Most are simple, e.g., just read a few variables
  • Overhead for most predicates is less than 10%
    • Many predicates are on infrequently executed code paths
    • Frequently executed predicates are simple and fast
    • Checkpoint/restore adds 5ms
related work
Related work
  • VM introspection [Rosenblum97]
  • VM introspection for intrusion detection [Garfinkel03]
  • Shield [Wang04]
  • Vigilante [Costa05]
  • Vulnerability-specific predicates detect triggering of software vulnerabilities
  • IntroVirt predicate engine
    • Simple to write general-purpose predicates
    • No perturbations in state
  • Alert users about past attacks
  • Detect and respond to attacks in the present