Software Exploitation: Hardware is the New Black

Cristiano Giuffrida


What would the world be like if software had no bugs? Software systems would be impenetrable and our data shielded from prying eyes? Not quite. In this talk, I will present evidence that reliable attacks targeting even "perfect" software are a realistic threat. Such attacks exploit properties of modern hardware to completely subvert a system, even in absence of software or configuration bugs. To substantiate this claim, I will illustrate practical attacks in real-world systems settings, such as browsers, clouds, and mobile. The implications are worrisome. Even bug-free (say formally verified) software can be successfully targeted by a relatively low-effort attacker. Moreover, state-of-the-art security defenses, which have proven useful to raise the bar against traditional software exploitation techniques, are completely ineffective against such attacks. It is time to revisit our assumptions on realistic adversarial models and investigate defenses that consider threats in the entire hardware/software stack. Pandora's box has been opened.

Time and Place

Tuesday, April 23, 4:15pm
Gates 463A