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USENIX, The Advanced Computing Systems Association

15th USENIX Security Symposium Abstract

Pp. 105–120 of the Proceedings

N-Variant Systems: A Secretless Framework for Security through Diversity

Benjamin Cox, David Evans, Adrian Filipi, Jonathan Rowanhill, Wei Hu, Jack Davidson, John Knight, Anh Nguyen-Tuong, and Jason Hiser, University of Virginia


We present an architectural framework for systematically using automated diversity to provide high assurance detection and disruption for large classes of attacks. The framework executes a set of automatically diversified variants on the same inputs, and monitors their behavior to detect divergences. The benefit of this approach is that it requires an attacker to simultaneously compromise all system variants with the same input. By constructing variants with disjoint exploitation sets, we can make it impossible to carry out large classes of important attacks. In contrast to previous approaches that use automated diversity for security, our approach does not rely on keeping any secrets. In this paper, we introduce the N-variant systems framework, present a model for analyzing security properties of N-variant systems, define variations that can be used to detect attacks that involve referencing absolute memory addresses and executing injected code, and describe and present performance results from a prototype implementation.
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Last changed: 20 Sept. 2006 ch