Tools for securely clearing and validating iOS application memory
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Memory Security Demo.xcodeproj
Memory Security Demo
Memory Security DemoTests

iMAS Secure Memoryanalytics


The "iMAS Secure Memory" framework provides a set of tools for securing, clearing, and validating memory regions and individual variables. It allows an object to have it's data sections overwritten in memory either with an encrypted version or null bytes.

Vulnerabilities Addressed

  • CWE-316: Cleartext Storage of Sensitive Information in Memory
  • CWE-244: Improper Clearing of Heap Memory Before Release


    cd ~/Documents/code/YourApp

    git clone
  • Click on the top level Project item and add files ("option-command-a")
  • Navigate to memory-security, highlight IMSHandler, and click Add
  • In any file you'd like to use the memory manager import IMSMemoryManager.h:
   #import "IMSMemoryManager.h"

Installation via CocoaPod

    • If you don't already have CocoaPods installed, do $ sudo gem install cocoapods in your terminal. (See the CocoaPods website for details.)
  • In your project directory, do pod init to create a Podfile.
  • Add pod 'SecureFoundation', :git => '' to your Podfile
  • On the next line, add pod 'MemorySecurity', :git => ''
  • Run pod install
  • In any file you'd like to use the memory manager, import IMSMemoryManager.h:
   #import "IMSMemoryManager.h"


  // Find the data portion of the object's memory and zero it out
  wipe(NSObject* obj); 
  // Encrypt an object's data in memory with a given password
  lock(NSObject* obj, NSString* pass); 
  // Decrypt an object's data in memory with a given password
  unlock(NSObject* obj, NSString* pass); 
  // Provide a string with the memory address and checksum of the object
  checksum(NSObject* obj);
  // Add the object to a pointer list that wipeAll, lockAll, unlockAll, and checksum operations effect
  track(NSObject* obj);
  // Remove the object from the tracked list
  untrack(NSObject* obj);
  // Wipe all tracked objects
  // Lock all tracked objects with the provided password
  lockAll(NSString* pass);
  // Unlock all tracked objects with the provided password
  unlockAll(NSString* pass);
  // Provide and statically stores a string off all tracked memory addresses and object checksums
  // Test whether the current memory state of all tracked objects matches the state it was in when checksumMem was called
  // YES if checksums matched, NO otherwise
  // Encrypt a primitive C type or struct
  lockC(void* obj, int size, char* pass);
  // Decrypt a primitive C type or struct
  unlockC(void* obj, int size, char* pass);
  // Track function address for validity checking
  validateTrack(void* foo);
  // Check function for address/offset validity
  validateCheck(void* foo);
  // returns IMP type function pointer to the implementation of an objc NSObject selector to use with validate checking
  objcFuncPtr(const char* cls, const char* sel);

Caution on password usage

Note that the included demo application uses a hardcoded string for passwords, this severely weakens the security provided. For the sake of showing just the functions provided by memory-security without additional dependencies a realistic option was avoided.

For a viable way to store application passwords look into the Secure Foundation project, which provides access to the device's keychain.

Also to increase overall security any password passed to lock/unlock should have wipe() ran on it immediately after use (As shown in the second part of the first use case).

Use case 1: Sensitive variable storage and clearing

Suppose we have a variable that contains sensitive data, we want to limit it's time in memory so that if an attacker gets access to the program's running memory they have less chance of seeing it. One strategy is to immediately wipe an object's memory right after use:

   NSString* sensitiveData;
   // Processing of sensitive data

This ensures that the data is only in memory during the processing.

Similarly we could lock the data, unlock immediately before use, and lock or wipe immediately after to obscure the data in memory:

Lock Unlock Example

// initialize and lock sensitive data
NSString* sensitiveData;
NSString* somePassword;
lock(sensitiveData, somePassword);


// when there's need for the sensitive data
unlock(sensitiveData, somePassword);
 * processing of sensitive data
lock(sensitiveData, somePassword);


// when finished finally with sensitive data

Use case 2: Tracking objects for bulk actions

Using the track() and untrack() functions, Memory Security supports remembering multiple sensitive objects to perform bulk actions on.

We start by tracking variables we care about and locking immediately after initialization:

NSString* obj1;
NSData* obj2;
NSArray* obj3;
NSString* somePassword;


Then when we need one or more of the objects, we can unlock all tracked objects, or any one specific locked object:

// OR unlock just one
 * data processing
// OR lock just one

For instance, when the device is locked and/or the app is closed (hidden or terminated) we may want to lock or wipe all sensitive data. We might then add lockAll()/unlockAll() or wipeAll()/secureExit() to the state-change notify functions in your AppDelegate. secureExit() acts as a final cleanup that wipes all tracked objects as well as zeros out all internal structures used by Memory Security in preparation for application exit.

- (void)applicationWillResignActive:(UIApplication *)application

- (void)applicationWillTerminate:(UIApplication *)application

Wipe on exit example

Use case 3: Check for memory tampering

We may want to see if an attacker or external process is modifying our applications memory for sensitive data. By tracking variables in regions and periodically using the checksum features we may be able to detect this.

Checksum example

Initial tracking and checksum:

   NSString* obj1;
   NSData* obj2;
   NSArray* obj3;

Before using a variable:

   if(checksumTest() == NO) {
      // ALERT Something is bad
   } else {
      obj1 = someNewThing(1);
      obj2 = someNewThing(2);
      obj3 = someNewThing(3);

Address Space Validation

Methods/Selectors that provide critical functionality are of special concern. For example, an attacker may attempt to point checksumTest() to a malicious function that always returns YES. Memory Security provides a way to verify with reasonable reliability that any critical method has not been tampered with in memory.

On App startup, validateTrack(*funcPtr) may be used to internally register critical functions with memory security. Thereafter, validateCheck(*funcPtr) may be called prior to usage of the method/selector to ensure the function's relative location in memory has been unchanged.

objcFuncPtr(char* class, char* selector) is a helper function that returns a pointer to any defined Objective-C selector, given the object Class and Selector name as arguments. This pointer can then be passed to validateTrack()/validateCheck() for verification puposes.


Copyright 2012,2013 The MITRE Corporation, All Rights Reserved.

Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License"); you may not use this work except in compliance with the License. You may obtain a copy of the License at

Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS IS" BASIS, WITHOUT WARRANTIES OR CONDITIONS OF ANY KIND, either express or implied. See the License for the specific language governing permissions and limitations under the License.