Date of Award

May 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Electrical Engineering and Computer Science


Heng Yin


Binary Analysis, Code-Reuse Attacks, Control-Flow Integrity, Program Integrity

Subject Categories



During a cyber-attack, an adversary executes offensive maneuvers to target computer systems. Particularly, an attacker often exploits a vulnerability within a program, hijacks control-flow, and executes malicious code. Data Execution Prevention (DEP), a hardware-enforced security feature, prevents an attacker from directly executing the injected malicious code. Therefore, attackers have resorted to code-reuse attacks, wherein carefully chosen fragments of code within existing code sections of a program are sequentially executed to accomplish malicious logic. Code-reuse attacks are ubiquitous and account for majority of the attacks in the wild. On one hand, due to the wide use of closed-source software, binary-level solutions are essential. On the other hand, without access to source-code and debug-information, defending raw binaries is hard.

A majority of defenses against code-reuse attacks enforce "control-flow integrity", a program property that requires the runtime execution of a program to adhere to a statically determined control-flow graph (CFG) -- a graph that captures the intended flow of control within the program. While defenses against code-reuse attacks have focused on reducing the attack space, due to the lack of high-level semantics in the binary, they lack in precision, which in turn results in smaller yet significant attack space.

This dissertation presents program integrity models aimed at narrowing the attack space available to execute code-reuse attacks. First, we take a semantic-recovery approach to restrict the targets of indirect branches in a binary. Then, we further improve the precision by recovering C++-level semantics, and enforce a strict integrity model that improves precision for virtual function calls in the binary.

Finally, in order to further reduce the attack space, we take a different perspective on defense against code-reuse attacks, and introduce Stack-Pointer Integrity -- a novel integrity model targeted at ensuring the integrity of stack pointer as opposed to the instruction pointer.

Our results show that the semantic-recovery-based approaches can help in significantly reducing the attack space by improving the precision of the underlying CFG. Function-level semantic recovery can eliminate 99.47% of inaccurate targets, whereas recovering virtual callsites and VTables at a C++ level can eliminate 99.99% of inaccurate targets.


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