MetaSafe: Compiling for Protecting Smart Pointer Metadata to Ensure Safe Rust Integrity

Authors: 

Martin Kayondo and Inyoung Bang, Seoul National University; Yeongjun Kwak and Hyungon Moon, UNIST; Yunheung Paek, Seoul National University

Abstract: 

Rust is a programming language designed with a focus on memory safety. It introduces new concepts such as ownership and performs static bounds checks at compile time to ensure spatial and temporal memory safety. For memory operations or data types whose safety the compiler cannot prove at compile time, Rust either explicitly excludes such portions of the program, termed unsafe Rust, from static analysis, or it relies on runtime enforcement using smart pointers. Existing studies have shown that potential memory safety bugs in such unsafe Rust can bring down the entire program, proposing in-process isolation or compartmentalization as a remedy. However, in this study, we show that the safe Rust remains susceptible to memory safety bugs even with the proposed isolation applied. The smart pointers upon which safe Rust's memory safety is built rely on metadata often stored alongside program data, possibly within reach of attackers. Manipulating this metadata, an attacker can nullify safe Rust's memory safety checks dependent on it, causing memory access bugs and exploitation. In response to this issue, we propose MetaSafe, a mechanism that safeguards smart pointer metadata from such attacks. MetaSafe stores smart pointer metadata in a gated memory region where only a predefined set of metadata management functions can write, ensuring that each smart pointer update does not cause safe Rust's memory safety violation. We have implemented MetaSafe by extending the official Rust compiler and evaluated it with a variety of micro- and application benchmarks. The overhead of MetaSafe is found to be low; it incurs a 3.5% average overhead on the execution time of a web browser benchmarks.

The overhead of MetaSafe is found to be low; it incurs a 3.5% average overhead on the execution time of a web browser benchmarks.

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