Overall Objectives
Research Program
Application Domains
Highlights of the Year
New Software and Platforms
New Results
Bilateral Contracts and Grants with Industry
Partnerships and Cooperations
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Section: Research Program

Axis 2: Malware analysis

Axis 1 is concerned with vulnerabilities. Such vulnerabilities can be exploited by an attacker in order to introduce malicious behaviors in a system. Another method to identify vulnerabilities is to analyze malware that exploits them. However, modern malware has a wide variety of analysis avoidance techniques. In particular, attackers obfuscate the code leading to a security exploit. For doing so, recent black hat research suggests hiding constants in program choices via polynomials. Such techniques hinder forensic analysis by making detailed analysis labor intensive and time consuming. The objective of research axis 2 is to obtain a full tool chain for malware analysis starting from (a) the observability of the malware via deobfuscation, and (b) the analysis of the resulting binary file. A complementary objective is to understand how hardware attacks can be exploited by malwares.

We first investigate obfuscation techniques. Several solutions exist to mitigate the packer problem. As an example, we try to reverse the packer and remove the environment evaluation in such a way that it performs the same actions and outputs the resulting binary for further analysis. There is a wide range of techniques to obfuscate malware, which includes flattening and virtualization. We will produce a taxonomy of both techniques and tools. We will first give a particular focus to control flow obfuscation via mixed Boolean algebra, which is highly deployed for malware obfuscation. We recently showed that a subset of them can be broken via SAT-solving and synthesis. Then, we will expand our research to other obfuscation techniques.

Once the malware code has been unpacked/deobfuscated, the resulting binary still needs to be fully understood. Advanced malware often contains multiple stages, multiple exploits and may unpack additional features based on its environment. Ensuring that one understands all interesting execution paths of a malware sample is related to enumerating all of the possible execution paths when checking a system for vulnerabilities. The main difference is that in one case we are interested in finding vulnerabilities and in the other in finding exploitative behavior that may mutate. Still, some of the techniques of Axis 1 can be helpful in analyzing malware. The main challenge for axis 2 is thus to adapt the tools and techniques to deal with binary programs as inputs, as well as the logic used to specify malware behavior, including behavior with potentially rare occurrences. Another challenge is to take mutation into account, which we plan to do by exploiting mining algorithms.

Most recent attacks against hardware are based on fault injection which dynamically modifies the semantics of the code. We demonstrated the possibility to obfuscate code using constraint solver in such a way that the code becomes intentionally hostile while hit by a laser beam. This new form of obfuscation opens a new challenge for secure devices where malicious programs can be designed and uploaded that defeat comprehensive static analysis tools or code reviews, due to their multi-semantic nature. We have shown on several products that such an attack cannot be mitigated with the current defenses embedded in Java cards. In this research, we first aim at extending the work on fault injection, then at developing new techniques to analyze such hostile code. This is done by proposing formal models of fault injection, and then reusing results from our work on obfuscation/deobfuscation.