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Runtime Protection via Dataflow Flattening

Bertrand Anckaert, Mariusz H. Jakubowski, Ramarathnam Venkatesan, and Chit Wei Saw


Software running on an open architecture, such as the PC, is vulnerable to inspection and modification. Since software may process valuable or sensitive information, many defenses against data analysis and modification have been proposed. This paper complements existing work and focuses on hiding data location throughout program execution. To achieve this, we combine three techniques: (i) periodic reordering of the heap, (ii) migrating local variables from the stack to the heap and (iii) pointer scrambling. By essentialy flattening the dataflow graph of the program, the techniques serve to complicate static dataflow analysis and dynamic data tracking. Our methodology can be viewed as a data-oriented analogue of control-flow flattening techniques.

Dataflow flattening is useful in practical scenarios like DRM, information-flow protection, and exploit resistance. Our prototype implementation compiles C programs into a binary for which every access to the heap is redirected through a memory management unit. Stack-based variables may be migrated to the heap, while pointer accesses and arithmetic may be scrambled and redirected. We evaluate our approach experimentally on the SPEC CPU2006 benchmark suite.


Publication typeInproceedings
Published inThe Third International Conference on Emerging Security Information, Systems and Technologies (SECURWARE 2009)
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