Hackers brew Intel chip defence kit to neuter budding exploits

Share this…

Researchers claim they can stop malware before it executes. Black Hat EndGame vulnerability researchers Cody Pierce, Matt Spisak, and Kenneth Fitch have created a defence framework to protect against deeper modern attacks.

The security trio with roots in the HP Zero Day Initiative, the National Security Agency, and the Department of Defence, have extended a hardware defense tool already in use for some Microsoft assets to apply to common programs.


Pierce, Spisal, and Fitch will demonstrate the processor-based Hardware-Assisted Control Flow Integrity protection at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas this week in work they say will “raise the [exploitation] bar significantly”.

Their cross-platform Intel platform framework moves the focus of defence from increasingly-obsolete post-exploitation return-oriented programming to attacks that hit close to memory.

It introduces runtime performance overheads some three times greater than those Redmond endures to apply the protection to Visual Studio on Windows 8.1 and 10, the team told ThreatPost, yet the impact remains “acceptable”.

The team say in a synopsis of their work that the security industry has gone to “great lengths” to complicate exploitation without much effect, pointing their fingers at code re-use attacks such as return-oriented programming.

“Unfortunately, the reality is that once attackers have control over code execution it’s only a matter of time before they can circumvent these defenses, as the recent rise of EMET bypasses illustrates,” they say.

“Our approach blocks exploits before they gain execution, preventing the opportunity to bypass mitigations.”

Earlier work has demonstrated the effectiveness of using chip Performance Monitoring Units to detect return-oriented programming attacks. The trio’s work generalises the approach to help detect attacks in real time and guard COTS binaries from control-flow hijack attempts stemming from use-after-free and memory corruption vulnerabilities.

The trio will demonstrate their work defending against exploits that otherwise would defeat lauded but perhaps dated tools like Microsoft’s enhanced mitigation toolkit.