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13th USENIX Security Symposium — Abstract

Pp. 321–336 of the Proceedings

Awarded Best Paper!

Understanding Data Lifetime via Whole System Simulation

Jim Chow, Ben Pfaff, Tal Garfinkel, Kevin Christopher, and Mendel Rosenblum, Stanford University


Strictly limiting the lifetime (i.e. propagation and duration of exposure) of sensitive data (e.g. passwords) is an important and well accepted practice in secure software development. Unfortunately, there are no current methods available for easily analyzing data lifetime, and very little information available on the quality of today's software with respect to data lifetime.

We describe a system we have developed for analyzing sensitive data lifetime through whole system simulation called TaintBochs. TaintBochs tracks sensitive data by ``tainting'' it at the hardware level. Tainting information is then propagated across operating system, language, and application boundaries, permitting analysis of sensitive data handling at a whole system level.

We have used TaintBochs to analyze sensitive data handling in several large, real world applications. Among these were Mozilla, Apache, and Perl, which are used to process millions of passwords, credit card numbers, etc. on a daily basis. Our investigation reveals that these applications and the components they rely upon take virtually no measures to limit the lifetime of sensitive data they handle, leaving passwords and other sensitive data scattered throughout user and kernel memory. We show how a few simple and practical changes can greatly reduce sensitive data lifetime in these applications.

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