https://www.dagstuhl.de/20201

May 10 – 15 , 2020, Dagstuhl Seminar 20201

Secure Compilation

Organizers

David Chisnall (Microsoft Research – Cambridge, GB)
Deepak Garg (MPI-SWS – Saarbrücken, DE)
Catalin Hritcu (INRIA – Paris, FR)
Mathias Payer (EPFL – Lausanne, CH)

For support, please contact

Annette Beyer for administrative matters

Andreas Dolzmann for scientific matters

Motivation

Secure compilation is an emerging field that puts together advances in security, programming languages, compilers, systems, verification, and hardware architectures to devise compilation chains that eliminate security vulnerabilities, and allow sound reasoning about security properties in the source language. For example, all modern languages define valid control flows, e.g., calls must always return to the instruction after the calling point, and many security-critical analyses such as data flow analysis rely on programs adhering to these valid control flows. However, today's compilation chains (compilers, linkers, loaders, runtime systems, hardware) cannot efficiently prevent violations of source-level control flows by co-linked low-level code, which can call and return to arbitrary instructions or smash the stack, blatantly violating the high-level abstraction. Other problems arise because languages fail to specify security policies, such as data confidentiality, and the compilation chains thus fail to enforce them, especially against powerful attacks like side-channels. Yet other problems arise because enforcing source-level abstractions requires runtime checks with noticeable overhead, so compilation chains often forego security properties in favor of efficient code.

The emerging secure compilation field aims to address such problems by:

  1. Identifying precise security goals and attacker models. Since there are many interesting security goals and many different kind of attacks to defend against, secure compilation is very diverse. Secure compilation chains may focus on providing (some degree of) type and memory safety for unsafe low-level languages like C and C++, or on providing mitigations that make exploiting security vulnerabilities more difficult. Other secure compilation chains use compartmentalization to limit the damage of an attack to only those components that encounter undefined behavior, or to enforce secure interoperability between code written in a safer language (like Java, C#, ML, Haskell, or Rust) and the malicious or compromised code it links against. Yet another kind of secure compilation tries to ensure that compilation and execution on a real machine does not introduce side-channel attacks.
  2. Designing secure languages. Better designed programming languages and new language features can enable secure compilation in various ways. New languages can provide safer semantics, and updates to the semantics of old unsafe languages can turn some undefined behaviors into guaranteed errors. Components or modules in the source language can be used as units of compartmentalization in the compilation chain. The source language can also make it easier to specify the intended security properties. For instance, explicitly annotating secret data that external observers or other components should not be able to obtain (maybe indirectly through side channels) may give the compilation chain the freedom to more efficiently handle any data that is not influenced by secrets.
  3. Devising efficient enforcement and mitigation mechanisms. An important reason for the insecurity of today’s compilation chains is that enforcing security can incur prohibitive overhead or significant compatibility issues. To overcome these problems, the secure compilation community is investigating various efficient security enforcement mechanisms such as statically checking low-level code, compiler optimizations, software rewriting (e.g. software fault isolation), dynamic monitoring, and randomization. Another key enabler is the emergence of new hardware features that enable efficient security enforcement: access checks on pointer dereferencing (e.g. Intel MPX, Hardbound, WatchdogLite, Oracle SSM, SPARC ADI, or HWASAN), protected enclaves (e.g. Intel SGX, ARM TrustZone, Sanctum, or Sancus), capability machines (e.g. CHERI), or micro-policy machines (e.g. Draper PUMP, Dover CoreGuard). The question is how these features can be used to offer various security features in source languages efficiently.
  4. Developing effective verification techniques for secure compilation chains. Criteria for secure compilation are generally harder to prove than compiler correctness. As an example, showing full abstraction, a common criterion for secure compilation, requires translating any low-level context attacking the compiled code to an equivalent high-level context that can attack the original source code. Another example is preservation of secret independent timing even in the presence of side-channels, as required for “constant-time” cryptographic implementations, which requires more complex simulation proofs than for compiler correctness. Finally, scaling such proofs up to even a simple compilation chain for a realistic language is a serious challenge that requires serious proof engineering in a proof assistant.

This seminar strives to take a broad and inclusive view of secure compilation and to provide a forum for discussion on the topic. The goal is to identify interesting research directions and open challenges by bringing together people working on building secure compilation chains, designing security enforcement and attack-mitigation mechanisms in both software and hardware, and on developing formal verification techniques for secure compilation.

Motivation text license
  Creative Commons BY 3.0 DE
  David Chisnall, Deepak Garg, Catalin Hritcu, and Mathias Payer

Related Dagstuhl Seminar

Classification

  • Programming Languages / Compiler
  • Security / Cryptology
  • Semantics / Formal Methods

Keywords

  • Secure compilation
  • Low-level attacks
  • Source-level reasoning
  • Attacker models
  • Full abstraction
  • Hyperproperties
  • Enforcement mechanisms
  • Compartmentalization
  • Security architectures
  • Side-channels

Documentation

In the series Dagstuhl Reports each Dagstuhl Seminar and Dagstuhl Perspectives Workshop is documented. The seminar organizers, in cooperation with the collector, prepare a report that includes contributions from the participants' talks together with a summary of the seminar.

 

Download overview leaflet (PDF).

Publications

Furthermore, a comprehensive peer-reviewed collection of research papers can be published in the series Dagstuhl Follow-Ups.

Dagstuhl's Impact

Please inform us when a publication was published as a result from your seminar. These publications are listed in the category Dagstuhl's Impact and are presented on a special shelf on the ground floor of the library.

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