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Taint-Based Return Oriented Programming

This is an implementation of the taint-based gadget management approach presented at SSTIC (paper, slides, talk, in french) and REcon in 2018.

This is still a PoC, and the code is still ugly as can be attested by the various badges at the top of this README.


There are roughly two kinds of tools for return oriented programming (ROP): syntactic tools that return the disassembly of gadgets and sometimes perform template based automatic chaining, and symbolic tools that compute a symbolic representation of the output state for each gadget and allow more powerful manipulations. The former are very fast but only allow regex queries, the latter allow symbolic queries but are much slower.

Taint-based ROP is an alternative approach, faster than symbolic tools and allowing more expressive queries than syntactic tools. TBrop uses a coarse semantic of instructions. Instead of a precise symbolic I/O relationship, it only relies on a dependency matrix reflecting how a taint would be propagated by a given gadget.

As an example, from the following gadget:

xchg rax, rbx
xor  rcx, rcx
add  rcx, rax
jmp  rcx

TBrop compute the following (sparse boolean) matrix:

... rax rbx rcx ...
rax . <┘ .
rbx <┘ . .
rcx . <┘ .

which reads as rax is influenced by rbx, rbx is influenced by rax, and rcx is influenced by rbx. The matrix also contains indices corresponding to rip (chain condition), some of the stack cells, and dereferencing among others.

Getting Started

To build with docker:

sudo docker build -t tbrop .

Otherwise, just pip install the dependencies:

  • capstone to disassemble opcodes;
  • lief to load various executable formats;
  • numpy and scipy for sparse boolean matrices;
  • ipython if you want to use the TBrop script, as opposed to just using TBrop as a lib.



sudo docker run --rm -it -v /FULL/LOCAL/PATH/FILE:/app/FILE:ro tbrop /app/FILE

It should (eventually) bring you to an ipython shell where you can do stuff like:

for g in gdgtCollection.gdgtCollection:
  if g.gadgetMatrix.matrix[X86_REG_RSP,X86_REG_RAX] \
  and g.gadgetMatrix.chainCond[0,X86_REG_RCX]:

All the gadgets are in the gdgtCollection attribute of the gdgtCollection object (some refactoring is needed...). Each gadget as a gadgetMatrix attribute that can be queried in the following way:

  • g.gadgetMatrix.matrix[X86_REG_RSP,X86_REG_RAX] is True if and only if there is a dependency from X86_REG_RAX before the execution of the gadget to X86_REG_RSP after its execution
  • g.gadgetMatrix.chainCond[0,X86_REG_RCX] is True if and only if there is a dependency from X86_REG_RCX before the execution of the gadget to rip after its execution. In other word: if you control rcx before the execution of the gadget, you might be able to control its destination and chain it with other gadgets or code.

Thus, the previous snippet of code will print all gadgets that overwrite rsp to a value influenced by rax and jump to an address influenced by rcx.

Since we import x86_const, all the X86_REG_* can be directly used as indices to gadgetMatrix.matrix and gadgetMatrix.chainCond. Other indices can be used:

  • deref: as an example g.gadgetMatrix.matrix[deref,X86_REG_RAX] selects gadgets for which a value influenced by rax is dereferenced;
  • memR: as an example g.gadgetMatrix.matrix[X86_REG_RBX, memR] selects gadgets that modify the value of rbx with something taken from memory (together with g.gadgetMatrix.matrix[deref,X86_REG_RAX] and g.gadgetMatrix.matrix[X86_REG_RBX,X86_REG_RAX], it would select gadgets that modify the value of rbx with something pointed to by rax);
  • stackTop + <integer>: as an example g.gadgetMatrix.matrix[X86_REG_RCX, stackTop+2] selects gadgets that modify the value of rcx with something influenced by the second cell of the stack (i.e. [rsp+0X10]). Just make sure that stackTop+x is between sF and sL as the size of the pseudo-stack is limited. Negative values of x refer to cells out of the stack.

When to use TBrop

When you feel desperate. Seriously, start with rp++ or ROPGenerator.

If you cannot grep your way out of a huge gadgets listing, or cannot express your constraints, or load your target binary, with a semantic tool, then you might want to give TBrop a try.

As an example, if you control rip and the buffer pointed to by rsp+8, TBrop might help you find a stack pivot (along with a few silly suggestions):

mov rcx, qword ptr [rsp + 8];  # rcx now points to the buffer you control
mov byte ptr [rsp], dl;
mov rax, qword ptr [rcx];      # thus you control rax
mov rdi, rcx;
call qword ptr [rax + 0x48];   # and can jump wherever you want, while rcx points to your buffer

mov rsp, rcx;

Another use case is if you find yourself working with an exotic architecture and do not want to encode the whole precise semantic of instructions, you can try to retrieve the taint propagation rules of instructions (with TaintInduce or another approach) and implement the corresponding architecture for TBrop (good luck with that).

Originally developped by @iNod3 and @clslgrnc at @DGA-MI-SSI.


PoC for the taint-based ROP approach





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