Pspray: Timing Side-Channel based Linux Kernel Heap Exploitation Technique


Yoochan Lee and Jinhan Kwak, Seoul National University; Junesoo Kang and Yuseok Jeon, UNIST; Byoungyoung Lee, Seoul National University


The stealthiness of an attack is the most vital consideration for an attacker to reach their goals without being detected. Therefore, attackers put in a great deal of effort to increase the success rate of attacks in order not to expose information on the attacker and attack attempts resulting from failures. Exploitation of the kernel, which is a prime target for the attacker, usually takes advantage of heap-based vulnerabilities, and these exploits' success rates fortunately remain low (e.g., 56.1% on average) due to the operating principle of the default Linux kernel heap allocator, SLUB.

This paper presents Pspray, a timing side-channel attack-based exploitation technique that significantly increases the success probability of exploitation. According to our evaluation, with 10 real-world vulnerabilities, Pspray significantly improves the success rate of all those vulnerabilities (e.g., from 56.1% to 97.92% on average). To prevent this exploitation technique from being abused by the attacker, we further introduce a new defense mechanism to mitigate the threat of Pspray. After applying mitigation, the overall success rate of Pspray becomes similar to that from before using Pspray with negligible performance overhead (0.25%) and memory overhead (0.52%).

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