Defending Embedded Systems Against Control Flow Attacks

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Executive Summary

This paper presents a control flow enforcement technique based on an Instruction Based Memory Access Control (IBMAC) implemented in hardware. It is specifically designed to protect low-cost embedded systems against malicious manipulation of their control flow as well as preventing accidental stack overflows. This is achieved by using a simple hardware modification to divide the stack in a data and a control flow stack (or return stack). Moreover, access to the control flow stack is restricted only to return and call instructions, which prevents control flow manipulation. Previous solutions tackled the problem of control flow injection on general purpose computing devices and are rarely applicable to the simpler low-cost embedded devices, that lack for example of a Memory Management Unit (MMU) or execution rings.

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