Manipulating semantic values in kernel data structures: Attack assessments and implications

  • Prakash A
  • Venkataramani E
  • Yin H
 et al. 
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Semantic values in kernel data structures are critical to many security applications, such as virtual machine introspection, malware analysis, and memory forensics. However, malware, or more specifically a kernel rootkit, can often directly tamper with the raw kernel data structures, known as DKOM (Direct Kernel Object Manipulation) attacks, thereby significantly thwarting security analysis. In addition to manipulating pointer fields to hide certain kernel objects, DKOM attacks may also mutate semantic values, which are data values with important semantic meanings. Prior research efforts have been made to defeat pointer manipulation attacks and thus identify hidden kernel objects. However, the space and severity of Semantic Value Manipulation (SVM) attacks have not received sufficient understanding. In this paper, we take a first step to systematically assess this attack space. To this end, we devise a new fuzz testing technique, namely - duplicate-value directed semantic field fuzzing, and implement a prototype called MOSS. Using MOSS, we evaluate two widely used operating systems: Windows XP and Ubuntu 10.04. Our experimental results show that the space of SVM attacks is vast for both OSes. Our proof-of-concept kernel rootkit further demonstrates that it can successfully evade all the security tools tested in our experiments, including recently proposed robust signature schemes. Moreover, our duplicate value analysis implies the challenges in defeating SVM attacks, such as an intuitive cross checking approach on duplicate values can only provide marginal detection improvement. Our study motivates revisiting of existing security solutions and calls for more effective defense against kernel threats.

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