Memory security in applications: when vulnerabilities become a problem

Memory security in applications: when vulnerabilities become a problem

Vulnerabilities related to memory security (memory safety vulnerabilities) are a type of problem that occurs when a program mistakenly accesses or improperly manages device memory. RAM memory is a fundamental space where data and instructions for executing programs are stored. The vulnerability that question the security of information stored in memory can lead to unwanted behavior, including application crashes, unexpected errors, and, in severe cases, arbitrary code execution.

Memory security vulnerabilities

There are various problems, which we have repeatedly talked about in many of our articles, which can lead to problems related to memory security, confidentiality and integrity of the information contained therein, and the stability and correct functioning of the system:

  • Buffer Overflow: Occurs when a program writes data beyond the bounds of a memory area (buffer), thereby overwriting important information or causing unexpected behavior. An anomaly that can be exploited by attackers to execute malicious code.
  • Use-After-Free: is a problem that occurs when a program continues to access a region of memory after it has been freed. Unpredictable behavior may occur, as the memory may have been overwritten with new data.
  • Null Pointer Dereference: In this case a program tries to access or dereference a null pointer (a pointer that points to no object). Dereferencing is critical when working with pointers, as it allows you to access the actual data that the pointer points to. A problem like the one indicated can cause application crashes or unpredictable behavior.
  • Memory Leaks: Although they do not usually represent a security problem in the strict sense, they occur when a program continues to allocate memory without ever freeing it, leading to a gradual exhaustion of available resources.

How serious is the problem of these vulnerabilities

To give an idea of ​​how much the vulnerabilities related to memory security have an impact, just keep in mind that 70% of the problems discovered every year on the software side by technicians Microsoft they have to do with this very topic.

Google communicates mirror data: within the project Chromium which, let us remember, forms the basis for the vast majority of web browsers in circulation, 70% of the most serious security bugs have to do with memory security vulnerabilities. Mozilla echoes this by arguing that most security issues are related to memory management.

These are not theoretical vulnerabilities. THE safety issues at the memory level identified in the software that we all use every day, they are used to conduct cyber attacks against real systems, organizations and people.

The team of Google Project Zero explains that 67% of zero-day vulnerability used by attackers to launch particularly effective attacks are precisely problems related to memory corruption.

Countering problems related to memory security

Over the years, software engineers have worked on a large number of solutions intelligent, useful in mitigating the problem. Think about the tools that randomize memory locations within which the applications save the data (so as not to provide opportunities for attackers), the sandboxing, anti-exploit software and integrated protection measures at the operating system level. At present, no matter what anyone says, there is no solution that allows you to effectively protect yourself from any potential attack attempt that exploits problems in memory management.

Software houses have invested time and money in training their people developers to avoid unsafe memory operations. Thanks to enormous efforts, we are trying to improve the situation by intervening for example on the safety of codice C/C++ existing. In this sense, the DevSecOps philosophy helps a lot by imposing the need for development and continuous update of the software, placing particular emphasis on aspects related to security.

The Capability Hardware Enhanced RISC Instructions (CHERI) project, developed at the University of Cambridge, aims to re-examine fundamental design choices in hardware and software to significantly improve system security. The main feature of CHERI is the extension of conventional hardware instruction architectures (ISAs) with new architectural features to enable more effective memory protection. There memory protection proposed by CHERI allows historically insecure programming languages ​​such as C and C++ to adapt to provide strong protection against many vulnerabilities that are widely exploited today.

Software and tools to detect and prevent exploits based on memory management vulnerabilities

In many of our articles we have described ei methodologies tool useful for recognizing any problems in software applications. Just as a reminder, we mention some of them here:

  • Static Analysis Tools: Static code analysis tools can identify potential security issues during the software development phase. Examples of static analysis tools include Cppcheck e Clang Static Analyzer. Both are software tools that, coincidentally, analyze the C/C++ code looking for different types of errors.
  • Dynamic Analysis Tools: Different from the previous ones, these tools run the software and analyze its behavior in real time, trying to identify any problems. Election gatefor example, performs dynamic analysis to detect incorrect memory management and issues such as buffer overflow e memory leak.
  • Fuzz Testing: Fuzzing is a testing technique that consists of passing random input data to a “target” program to identify any errors and anomalous behavior.
  • Runtime Protection: A tool like ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization), well known to Windows users, introduces randomness into memory locations as they are used, making it more difficult for attackers to exploit any vulnerabilities. It joins DEP (Data Execution Prevention) which prevents code execution in some areas of memory. There ratio is to help mitigate attacks based on overwriting the contents of memory.
  • Security Auditing: They are software tools designed to perform a audit of the code or a check for vulnerabilities. OWASP Dependency-Checkfor example, is a useful tool that identifies third-party dependencies in programs by looking for known vulnerabilities in libraries and add-ons.

The role of modern programming languages ​​and Rust, to overcome the historical problems of C/C++

Most of the programming languages modern systems other than C/C++ already offer greater security with respect to memory management issues. In 2006, a software engineer at Mozilla began working on a new programming language called Rust. Rust version 1.0 was officially announced in 2015. Since then, several major software organizations have started using it in their systems, including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, and many others. It is also supported in Linux kernel and Windows kernel development. Why? Because Rust is designed to provide a high level of security memory, counteracting the problems traditionally associated with languages ​​such as C and C++.

The features that make Rust a safe solution for software development

Some features that make Rust an excellent solution for counter problems related to memory security:

  • Ownership e Borrowing: Rust uses a system that controls access to memory runtime. Every value in Rust has an owner, and only the owner can modify or deallocate it. This helps prevent problems like memory leak e use-after-free.
  • Type management: The typing system behind Rust is powerful and expressive. The Rust compiler checks the correctness of a types runtimeavoiding many categories of common errors, such as buffer overflow e buffer underrun.
  • No problem Null Pointer Dereference: In Rust, the concept of a null pointer does not exist. Rust ensures that pointers can only be dereferenced when they are safe and valid.
  • Borrow Checker: This is a mechanism that analyzes the code to ensure that there are no violations of the rules of…

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