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A processor architecture defense against buffer overflow attacks

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4 Author(s)
McGregor, J.P. ; Dept. of Electr. Eng., Princeton Univ., NJ, USA ; Karig, D.K. ; Shi, Z. ; Lee, R.B.

Buffer overflow vulnerabilities in the memory stack continue to pose serious threats to network and computer security. By exploiting these vulnerabilities, a malicious party can strategically overwrite the return address of a procedure call, obtain control of a system, and subsequently launch more virulent attacks. Software countermeasures for such intrusions entail modifications to applications, compilers, and operating systems. Despite the availability of these defenses, many systems remain vulnerable to buffer overflow attacks. We present a hardware-based solution that prevents buffer overflow attacks involving procedure return address corruption. We add a secure return address stack to the processor that provides built-in, dynamic protection against return address tampering without requiring any effort by users or application programmers. Also, the performance impact is negligible for most applications. Changes are not required of application source code, so both legacy and future software can enjoy the security benefits of this solution.

Published in:

Information Technology: Research and Education, 2003. Proceedings. ITRE2003. International Conference on

Date of Conference:

11-13 Aug. 2003