On the Effectiveness of Type-based Control Flow Integrity

Reza Mirzazade Farkhani, Saman Jafari, Sajjad Arshad, William Robertson, Engin Kirda, Hamed Okhravi
In Proceedings of the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC)


Control flow integrity (CFI) has received significant attention in the community to combat control hijacking attacks in the presence of memory corruption vulnerabilities. The challenges in creating a practical CFI has resulted in the development of a new type of CFI based on runtime type checking (RTC). RTC-based CFI has been implemented in a number of recent practical efforts such as GRSecurity Reuse Attack Protector (RAP) and LLVM-CFI. While there have been a number of previous efforts that studied the strengths and limitations of other types of CFI techniques, little has been done to evaluate the RTC-based CFI.

In this work, we study the effectiveness of RTC from the security and practicality aspects. From the security perspective, we observe that type collisions are abundant in sufficiently large code bases but exploiting them to build a functional attack is not straightforward. Then we show how an attacker can successfully bypass RTC techniques using a variant of ROP attacks that respect type checking (called TROP) and also build two proof-of-concept exploits, one against Nginx web server and the other against Exim mail server. We also discuss practical challenges of implementing RTC. Our findings suggest that while RTC is more practical for applying CFI to large code bases, its policy is not strong enough when facing a motivated attacker.