Theory of Insecurity presented at TROOPERS 2012

by Sergey Bratus, Meredith L. Patterson,

Summary : Why is the overwhelming majority of networked software still not secure, despite all effort to the contrary? Why is it almost certain to get exploited so long as attackers can craft its inputs? Why is it the case that no amount of effort seems enough to fix software that must speak certain protocols?
The answer to these questions is that for many protocols and services currently in use on the Internet, the problem of recognizing and validating their good, expected inputs from bad ones is either not well-posed or is undecidable (i.e., no algorithm can exist to solve it in the general case), which means that their implementations cannot even be comprehensively tested, let alone automatically checked for weaknesses or correctness. The designers desire for more functionality has made these protocols effectively unsecurable.
In this talk well draw a direct connection between this ubiquitous insecurity and basic computer science concepts of Turing completeness and theory of languages. We will show how well-meant protocol designs are doomed to their implementations becoming clusters of 0day, and will show where to look for these 0day. We will also discuss simple principles of how to avoid designing such protocols.

Sergey Bratus: Sergey Bratus is a Research Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College. He enjoys wireless and wired network hacking and tries to help fellow academics to understand its value and relevance. Before coming to Dartmouth, he worked on machine learning for natural text processing at BBN Technologies. He has a Ph.D. In Mathematics from Northeastern University.