Towards automatic generation of vulnerability-based signatures

David Brumley, James Newsome, Dawn Song, Hao Wang, and Somesh Jha.

In IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy.

Oakland, California, May 2006.

In this paper we explore the problem of creating vulnerability signatures. A vulnerability signature matches all exploits of a given vulnerability, even polymorphic or metamorphic variants. Our work departs from previous approaches by focusing on the semantics of the program and vulnerability exercised by a sample exploit instead of the semantics or syntax of the exploit itself. We show the semantics of a vulnerability define a language which contains all and only those inputs that exploit the vulnerability. A vulnerability signature is a representation (e.g., a regular expression) of the vulnerability language. Unlike exploitbased signatures whose error rate can only be empirically measured for known test cases, the quality of a vulnerability signature can be formally quantified for all possible inputs.

We provide a formal definition of a vulnerability signature and investigate the computational complexity of creating and matching vulnerability signatures. We also systematically explore the design space of vulnerability signatures. We identify three central issues in vulnerability-signature creation: how a vulnerability signature represents the set of inputs that may exercise a vulnerability, the vulnerability coverage (i.e., number of vulnerable program paths) that is subject to our analysis during signature creation, and how a vulnerability signature is then created for a given representation and coverage.

We propose new data-flow analysis and novel adoption of existing techniques such as constraint solving for automatically generating vulnerability signatures. We have built a prototype system to test our techniques. Our experiments show that we can automatically generate a vulnerability signature using a single exploit which is of much higher quality than previous exploit-based signatures. In addition, our techniques have several other security applications, and thus may be of independent interest.

Paper: [pdf] [ps]

This page updated April 05, 2006.