SoK: Enabling Security Analyses of Embedded Systems via Rehosting

Andrew Fasano, Tiemoko Ballo, Marius Muench, Tim Leek, Alexander Olienik, Brendan Dolan-Gavitt, Manuel Egele, Aurélien Francillon, Long Lu, Nick Gregory, Davide Balzarotti, William Robertson
To appear in Proceedings of the ACM Asia Conference on Computer and Communications Security (ASIACCS)


Closely monitoring the behavior of a software system during its execution enables developers and analysts to observe, and ultimately understand, how it works. This kind of dynamic analysis can be instrumental to reverse engineering, vulnerability discovery, exploit development, and debugging. While these analyses are typically well-supported for homogeneous desktop platforms (e.g., x86 desktop PCs), they can rarely be applied in the heterogeneous world of embedded systems. One approach to enable dynamic analyses of embedded systems is to move software stacks from physical systems into virtual environments that sufficiently model hardware behavior. This process which we call “rehosting” poses a significant research challenge with major implications for security analyses. Although rehosting has traditionally been an unscientific and ad-hoc endeavor undertaken by domain experts with varying time and resources at their disposal, researchers are beginning to address rehosting challenges systematically and in earnest. In this paper, we establish that emulation is insufficient to conduct large-scale dynamic analysis of real-world hardware systems and present rehosting as a firmware-centric alternative. Furthermore, we taxonomize preliminary rehosting efforts, identify the fundamental components of the rehosting process, and propose directions for future research.