Purdue University Graduate School
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posted on 2019-05-14, 16:15 authored by Kyriakos K IspoglouKyriakos K Ispoglou
Despite the broad diversity of attacks and the many different ways an adversary can exploit a system, each attack can be divided into different phases. These phases include the discovery of a vulnerability in the system, its exploitation and the achieving persistence on the compromised system for (potential) further compromise and future access. Determining the exploitability of a system –and hence the success of an attack– remains a challenging, manual task. Not only because the problem cannot be formally defined but also because advanced protections and mitigations further complicate the analysis and hence, raise the bar for any successful attack. Nevertheless, it is still possible for an attacker to circumvent all of the existing defenses –under certain circumstances.

In this dissertation, we define and infer the Residual Attack Surface on a system. That is, we expose the limitations of the state-of-the-art mitigations, by showing practical ways to circumvent them. This work is divided into four parts. It assumes an attack with three phases and proposes new techniques to infer the Residual Attack Surface on each stage.

For the first part, we focus on the vulnerability discovery. We propose FuzzGen, a tool for automatically generating fuzzer stubs for libraries. The synthesized fuzzers are target specific, thus resulting in high code coverage. This enables developers to expose and fix vulnerabilities (that reside deep in the code and require initializing a complex state to trigger them), before they can be exploited. We then move to the vulnerability exploitation part and we present a novel technique called Block Oriented Programming (BOP), that automates data-only attacks. Data-only attacks defeat advanced control-flow hijacking defenses such as Control Flow Integrity. Our framework, called BOPC, maps arbitrary exploit payloads into execution traces and encodes them as a set of memory writes. Therefore an attacker’s intended execution “sticks” to the execution flow of the underlying binary and never departs from it. In the third part of the dissertation, we present an extension of BOPC that presents some measurements that give strong indications of what types of exploit payloads are not possible to execute. Therefore, BOPC enables developers to test what data an attacker would compromise and enables evaluation of the Residual Attack Surface to assess an application’s risk. Finally, for the last part, which is to achieve persistence on the compromised system, we present a new technique to construct arbitrary malware that evades current dynamic and behavioral analysis. The desired malware is split into hundreds (or thousands) of little pieces and each piece is injected into a different process. A special emulator coordinates and synchronizes the execution of all individual pieces, thus achieving a “distributed execution” under multiple address spaces. malWASH highlights weaknesses of current dynamic and behavioral analysis schemes and argues for full-system provenance.

Our envision is to expose all the weaknesses of the deployed mitigations, protections and defenses through the Residual Attack Surface. That way, we can help the research community to reinforce the existing defenses, or come up with new, more effective ones.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Computer Science

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Mathias Payer

Additional Committee Member 2

Byoungyoung Lee

Additional Committee Member 3

Samuel Wagstaff

Additional Committee Member 4

Benjamin Delaware

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