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Georgia Tech research identifies Android security weaknesses caused by performance design

20/06/2014 by


Georgia Tech researchers have identified a weakness in one of Android’s security features and will present their work at Black Hat USA 2014, which will be held August 6-7 in Las Vegas. The research, titled Abusing Performance Optimisation Weaknesses to Bypass ASLR, identifies an Android performance feature that weakens a software protection called Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR), leaving software components vulnerable to attacks that bypass the protection. The work is aimed at helping security practitioners identify and understand the future direction of such attacks.

The work was conducted at the Georgia Tech Information Security Center (GTISC) by Ph.D. students Byoungyoung Lee and Yeongjin Jang and research scientist Tielei Wang, and reveals that the introduction of performance optimisation features can inadvertently harm the security guarantees of an otherwise vetted system. In addition to describing how vulnerabilities originate from such designs, they demonstrate real attacks that exploit them.

“To optimize object tracking for some programming languages, interpreters for the languages may leak address information,” said Lee, lead researcher for the effort. “As a concrete example, we’ll demonstrate how address information can be leaked in the Safari web browser by simply running some JavaScript.”

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Bypassing ASLR using hash table leaks was previously believed to be obsolete due to its complexity. By exhaustively investigating various language implementations and presenting concrete attacks, the research aims to show that the concern is still valid.

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