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Binsec/Rel: Symbolic Binary Analyzer for Constant-Time and Secret-Erasure

Binsec/Rel is an extension of the binary analysis plateform Binsec that implements relational symbolic execution (RelSE) for constant-time and secret-erasure verification.

You can find some use cases to test Binsec/Rel at


For more details about Binsec/Rel for constant-time analysis, you can read the paper, published at 2020 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy (SP).

The artifact for this paper is located on this repository, under the tag SP20.


From sources


  • boolector (recommended boolector-3.2.0), z3, yices or cvc4.
  • opam
# Checkout source code
git clone binsec-rel
cd binsec-rel

# Install Binsec/Rel and its dependencies
make switch

Binsec executable is located under _build/install/default/bin/binsec.

Print the help:

_build/install/default/bin/binsec --help


The docker contains necessary files for running Binsec/Rel and the use cases to test it.

  1. Download the image.

  2. Import the image:

docker load < binsec-rel.tar
  1. Run the container:
docker run -it binsec-rel /bin/bash
  1. Run ./ to get the latest version of Binsec/Rel.

  2. Run the tests with cd rel_bench; make tests

You are ready to go ! Read for examples on how to use Binsec/Rel.

Overview of Binsec and the Binsec/Rel plugin

Source code

The source code for the Rel plugin is located under src/relse/, you can find a Readme that details the structure of the code.

Binsec/Rel: a Bounded-Verification and Bug-Finding Tool

Binsec is a symbolic execution tool for binary code which makes no approximation on the semantics of the program:

  • Binsec does not over-approximate the semantics of the programs like tools based on abstract interpretation. Therefore, when Binsec finds a violation of a property, it is a true violation.
  • By default, binsec does not under-approximate the semantics of the program like standard bug-finding tools based on dynamic symbolic execution. Binsec explores all possible branches of a program until reaching a given depth (or until it times-out). Therefore, when Binsec exhaustively explores a program without finding a bug, then there is no bugs in the program. Note that in practice, some values are concretized in our experiments e.g. the initial value of the stack pointer esp, or the size of arrays (see limitations). In these cases, we can only claim the absence of bugs in programs initialized according to these concrete values.

Note that Binsec (like most program analyzer) is not a verified program analyzer like Verasco, so it might contain bugs that can weaken these guarantees. Therefore, if you use Binsec/Rel to verify real cryptographic code, do not trust it blindly and always double check the results.

Memory model and simplifications

Binsec uses a flat memory model in which the whole memory is represented as a symbolic array, mapping addresses (32-bit symbolic bitvectors) to values (8-bit symbolic bitvectors).

Optimizations based on read-over-write are implemented to simplify load operations on-the-fly during the symbolic execution and improve performance.

More details on the memory model and the optimizations in Binsec/Rel will be coming later.


  1. For now, Binsec only supports 32-bit programs (support for 64-bit is almost ready and should be released soon).
  2. Binsec does not support dynamic memory allocation. Therefore, in our experiments, the size of the symbolic input (keys, plaintext) is fixed.
  3. In our experiments, we also concertize the value of the initial stack pointer esp. Keeping the stack pointer symbolic might lead to spurious violations---for instance, the solver can find a violation when initializing esp to a spurious position in order to overrite values in the .data section. An alternative option would be to constrain the initial value of esp to an interval of possible values.
  4. Binsec/Rel supports ARM binaries but it has only be tested on small examples, the performance might vary significantly from x86 because of different decoding choices.

Possible extensions

Here is a list of possible extensions that, I think, would be interesting to add to Binsec/Rel (if someday I find the time):

  • Constraint initial esp to an interval of values [medium difficulty],
  • Add constraints on initial symbolic input [medium difficulty],
  • Infer relational invariants for verifying programs with loops [hard].

If you have any ideas, or suggestions of improvement, I'd be really happy to hear them!

Using Binsec/Rel

Specifying secret and public inputs

There are three ways to specify secrets:

  1. Specify secret and public input directly in the C program using dummy functions high_input_N(void* ptr, int size) and low_input_N(void* ptr, int size), defined in the libsym library. See an example on donna, or on secret-erasure.

  2. Use global variables to store secrets and use -relse-high-sym symbol_name to indicate symbols in the Elf file that contain secret input.

  3. Use the option -relse-high-var to specify secrets as offsets from the initial esp. This option requires some reverse engineering and is more complex to use, you should probably refrain from using it except when you have no other choice.

Configure the initial memory

By default, the initial memory is fully symbolic--even the .data section which contains global variables. This means that the solver can choose any value instead of the global variable that you carefully initialized in your program---which is probably not what you want. This section details how to configure the initial memory so that Binsec won't return spurious violations. There are three command line arguments to configure the initial memory:

  • -sse-load-ro-sections: load the content of all read-only sections in the binary (e.g. .rodata section). The alternative is to keep the corresponding locations symbolic. (You probably want to enable it.)

  • -sse-load-sections sections: specify sections to load from the binary in the initial symbolic memory. For instance, -sse-load-sections .got.plt,.data,.plt will load the content of the sections .got.plt,, .data,, and .plt directly from the binary file. Take care of the initialization of the .bss section which contains both variables initialized to 0 (that we want to concretize) and uninitialized variables (that we want to keep symbolic). This problem can be solve by initializing specific addresses from file (see -sse-memory) or by specifying public input explicitly (see section specifying secret and public inputs).

  • -sse-memory path: define the path of the initialization file. See for example the initialization file for aes or the example below.

# Set initial esp to 0xffff0000

# Initialize from the binary 1024 bytes in initial memory at address 0x08080808
@[0x08080808,1024] from_file;

Binsec/Rel options

By default, Binsec/Rel starts its analysis from the start of the main function and ends at the end of the main function. You can change the default entrypoint with the command line option -entrypoint and the addresses to stop the analysis with -sse-no-explore, e.g. -sse-no-explore 0xdeadc0de,0xdeadc0d3.

Binsec command line arguments can be listed with binsec --help. Options specific to the Rel plugin can be listed with -relse-help. We explain here the most important options:

  • -relse-fp level: sets the frequency of insecurity checks to level (see fp optimization in the paper). level can take the following values:

    • never: never check insecurity queries,
    • instr: (default) check insecurity queries at each instruction,
    • block: pack insecurity queries and check them at the end of a basic block (loosing precision in the reported counterexample),
    • blockprecise: same as block but without loosing precision.
  • -relse-leak-info option: select what to do when finding a violation, option can take the following values:

    • halt: stops symbolic execution after finding a violation,
    • instr: continue the exploration but report the faulting instruction only once.
  • -relse-property prop: select the property to check:

    • ct: (default) check constant-time,
    • secret-erasure: check secret-erasure,
  • -relse-stat-file path: define the path of the .csv file to write the results. If not set, outputs the results to the standard output.

  • -relse-paths n, -sse-depth n, -relse-timeout n: set respectively, the number of paths to explore (default 0), the maximum depth of a path (default 1000), and the timeout (in seconds) of the exploration (default 0). Set to 0 for infinite.

  • -sse-jump-enum: set the maximum number of jump targets to explore at dynamic jumps.

The following arguments can also be useful to increase the verbosity of the analysis when debugging:

  • -sse-comment: add comments to the generated formulas to indicate, for instance, the program locations corresponding to a given expression.

  • -sse-smt-dir path: set a directory to save smt formulas generated during symbolic execution.

  • -relse-debug-level n: set the verbosity of the debug to n where 0 <= n <= 10.

Look at Binsec/Rel benchmarks for more examples on how to use Binsec/Rel.

Common pitfalls

  • Usually, copying the initialization file from one program to the other does not work. Memory addresses that are initialized from file for one program, might be spurious or non0existing addresses in another program.

  • If you get spurious violations, check that the solver did not initialized esp to a spurious address. If so, you can concretize esp using the initialization file (see option -sse-memory path).

  • Another way to get spurious violations is to forget to initialize parts of the memory (see section "Configure the initial memory").


Binsec/Rel is an extension of Binsec that implements relational symbolic execution for constant-time verification and secret-erasure at binary-level.







Contributors 4