Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

11/3/2009
03:19 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Researchers Create Hypervisor-Based Tool For Blocking Rootkits

New technology 'patches' the operating system kernel, protects it from rootkits

Researchers at North Carolina State University and Microsoft Research have come up with a way to combat rootkits by using the machine's own hardware-based memory protection: the so-called HookSafe tool basically protects the operating system kernel from rootkits.

Rootkits are the most difficult of malware to detect and remove: they often evade detection by anti-malware software, and even if they are discovered, they can still be difficult to completely eradicate. A rootkit typically hijacks "hooks" in the operating system -- basically the control data in the kernel used to augment or extend the features of an OS -- in order to hide out in the OS. This in turn lets the rootkit intercept and manipulate the system's data, remain invisible to the user and anti-malware tools, and to install other malware aimed at stealing data from the system.

"Then the rootkit can hijack and manipulate the results seen by the user applications ... only allowing a user to see what it wants them to see," says Xuxian Jiang, assistant professor of computer science at NC State and a member of the research team.

"The best way to [defend against rootkits] is to prevent them in the first place," he says. "It's a mess trying to clean them up."

The researchers have devised a way to move the potentially tens of thousands of hooks in the kernel to a centralized location so they're easier to monitor and more difficult to abuse. Their HookSafe prototype is a hypervisor-based system that is able to protect nearly 6,000 different kernel hooks and has successfully stopped nine different rootkits.

HookSafe runs in Ubuntu Linux 8.04 and leverages hardware-based memory protection in the system to stop rootkits from hijacking kernel hooks. "[It] includes a patch to the OS kernel to relocate the kernel hooks," Jiang says. "It also includes an extension to commodity hypervisors [such as Xen] to enforce the hook protection with the hardware-based memory protection."

The main tradeoff of the tool thus far is a slight performance hit, about a 6 percent slowdown in system performance.

Jiang says the researchers designed the hypervisor-based hook to enforce hook usage because the OS kernel is vulnerable and could already be corrupted by a rootkit and thus not reliable for monitoring the hooks itself.

Greg Hoglund, CEO and founder of HBGary and a rootkit expert, says the new research addresses one of the main areas of rootkit infection, but is no silver bullet.

"This is a subset of the problem. They are protecting the kernel, but not preventing the rootkits from operating," Hoglund says. "Right now we have rootkits that will bypass this technology: there are simply too many places where execution control can be gained" by rootkits, he says.

But NC State's Jiang says HookSafe is for both preventing rootkits altogether as well as preventing them from using hooks: "The reason is that if a hook cannot be hijacked by rootkits, the rootkit will not be able to hide its presence in the system," he says. "And the very hiding capability is the defining characteristic of a rootkit."

With the help of Microsoft Research, the research team also has a version of HookSafe under development for the Windows research kernel, which can be found here.

Jiang and his colleagues will present their paper, titled "Countering Kernel Rootkits with Lightweight Hook Protection" (PDF) on November 12 at the 16th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Chicago.

"The exciting part of this research is that it effectively blocks one of most commonly used attack vectors by rootkits -- through kernel hooks. And the blocking can be done efficiently, thanks to the hardware-based memory protection," Jiang says.

They have proposed several techniques for protecting the OS kernel overall, including previous research on rootkit profiling and kernel code integrity. Jiang says the team is also looking how an OS kernel can be redesigned to make kernel rootkits more difficult to deploy in the first place.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Commentary
Ransomware Is Not the Problem
Adam Shostack, Consultant, Entrepreneur, Technologist, Game Designer,  6/9/2021
Edge-DRsplash-11-edge-ask-the-experts
How Can I Test the Security of My Home-Office Employees' Routers?
John Bock, Senior Research Scientist,  6/7/2021
News
New Ransomware Group Claiming Connection to REvil Gang Surfaces
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  6/10/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win an Amazon Gift Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
The State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
In this report learn how enterprises are building their incident response teams and processes, how they research potential compromises, how they respond to new breaches, and what tools and processes they use to remediate problems and improve their cyber defenses for the future.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2021-20027
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-14
A buffer overflow vulnerability in SonicOS allows a remote attacker to cause a Denial of Service (DoS) by sending a specially crafted request. This vulnerability affects SonicOS Gen5, Gen6, Gen7 platforms, and SonicOSv virtual firewalls.
CVE-2021-32684
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-14
magento-scripts contains scripts and configuration used by Create Magento App, a zero-configuration tool-chain which allows one to deploy Magento 2. In versions 1.5.1 and 1.5.2, after changing the function from synchronous to asynchronous there wasn't implemented handler in the start, stop, exec, an...
CVE-2021-34693
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-14
net/can/bcm.c in the Linux kernel through 5.12.10 allows local users to obtain sensitive information from kernel stack memory because parts of a data structure are uninitialized.
CVE-2021-27887
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-14
Cross-site Scripting (XSS) vulnerability in the main dashboard of Ellipse APM versions allows an authenticated user or integrated application to inject malicious data into the application that can then be executed in a victim’s browser. This issue affects: Hitachi ABB Power Grids ...
CVE-2021-27196
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-14
Improper Input Validation vulnerability in Hitachi ABB Power Grids Relion 670 Series, Relion 670/650 Series, Relion 670/650/SAM600-IO, Relion 650, REB500, RTU500 Series, FOX615 (TEGO1), MSM, GMS600, PWC600 allows an attacker with access to the IEC 61850 network with knowledge of how to reproduce the...