OS-Aware Vulnerability Prioritization via Differential Severity Analysis


Qiushi Wu, University of Minnesota; Yue Xiao and Xiaojing Liao, Indiana University Bloomington; Kangjie Lu, University of Minnesota


The Linux kernel is quickly evolving and extensively customized. This results in thousands of versions and derivatives. Unfortunately, the Linux kernel is quite vulnerable. Each year, thousands of bugs are reported, and hundreds of them are security-related bugs. Given the limited resources, the kernel maintainers have to prioritize patching the more severe vulnerabilities. In practice, Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS)[1] has become the standard for characterizing vulnerability severity. However, a fundamental problem exists when CVSS meets Linux—it is used in a "one for all" manner. The severity of a Linux vulnerability is assessed for only the mainstream Linux, and all affected versions and derivatives will simply honor and reuse the CVSS score. Such an undistinguished CVSS usage results in underestimation or overestimation of severity, which further results in delayed and ignored patching or wastes of the precious resources. In this paper, we propose OS-aware vulnerability prioritization (namely DIFFCVSS), which employs differential severity analysis for vulnerabilities. Specifically, given a severity assessed vulnerability, as well as the mainstream version and a target version of Linux, DIFFCVSS employs multiple new techniques based on static program analysis and natural language processing to differentially identify whether the vulnerability manifests a higher or lower severity in the target version. A unique strength of this approach is that it transforms the challenging and laborious CVSS calculation into automatable differential analysis. We implement DIFFCVSS and apply it to the mainstream Linux and downstream Android systems. The evaluation and user-study results show that DIFFCVSS is able to precisely perform the differential severity analysis, and offers a precise and effective way to identify vulnerabilities that deserve a severity reevaluation.

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@inproceedings {280002,
author = {Qiushi Wu and Yue Xiao and Xiaojing Liao and Kangjie Lu},
title = {{OS-Aware} Vulnerability Prioritization via Differential Severity Analysis},
booktitle = {31st USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 22)},
year = {2022},
isbn = {978-1-939133-31-1},
address = {Boston, MA},
pages = {395--412},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity22/presentation/wu-qiushi},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug,

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