PACTIGHT: Tightly Seal Sensitive Pointers with Pointer Authentication

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Virginia Tech

ARM is becoming more popular in desktops and data centers. This opens a new realm in terms of security attacks against ARM, increasing the importance of having an effective and efficient defense mechanism for ARM. ARM has released Pointer Authentication, a new hardware security feature that is intended to ensure pointer integrity with cryptographic primitives. Recently, it has been found to be vulnerable.

In this thesis, we utilize Pointer Authentication to build a novel scheme to completely prevent any misuse of security-sensitive pointers. We propose PACTight to tightly seal these pointers from attacks targeting Pointer Authentication itself as well as from control-flow hijacks. PACTight utilizes a strong and unique modifier that addresses the current issues with PAC and its implementations. We implement four defenses by fully integrating with the LLVM compiler toolchain. Through a robust and systemic security and performance evaluation, we show that PACTight defenses are more efficient and secure than their counterparts. We evaluated PACTight on 30 different applications, including NGINX web server and using real PAC instructions, with an average performance and memory overhead of 4.28% and 23.2% respectively even when enforcing its strongest defense. As far as we know, PACTight is the first defense mechanism to demonstrate effectiveness and efficiency with real PAC instructions.

System Security, ARM, Security Policy