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Trace Surfing

A tale of data structure recovering and other yerbas
By Agustin Gianni – Immunity Inc.

Problem Statement

Given a memory trace, what information does the trace gives us about the underlying data structures?

Road map
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Investigation of previous approaches Realization that they kind of suck Enlightenment phase → how can we improve


What is a memory trace?

A memory trace is a collection of all the memory accesses performed by an application.

Both reads and writes

How can I obtain a memory trace?

Binary Instrumentation
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pintool DynamoRIO QEMU BOCHS

Full system emulation
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Example Memory Trace
# White listed image `calc.exe` # Loading hooks from file hooks.hks # Loaded hook alloc:test_custom_alloc:00000774:0:my_alloc_ # Loaded hook free:test_custom_alloc:000007b6:0:my_free_ L:calc.exe:0x003a0000:0x0045ffff # Thread 0x0 started # Instrumented malloc at 0x75619cee # Instrumented free at 0x75619894 # Instrumented realloc at 0x7561b10d # Instrumented calloc at 0x7561c456 W:0x003a76c6:0x01d125e0:0x01d125e0:0x00000004:0x0000000f W:0x003a76cc:0x01d125e0:0x01d125e4:0x00000004:0x0000000f … F:0x003b8f9a I:0x003b8f9a:0x00000031:0x00000000 F:0x003b8fdc I:0x003b8fdc:0x00000031:0x00000000 # Thread 0x1 did not finish but application exited.


Why do we care about recovering data structures?

Large binaries are a pain to reverse

Specially Object Oriented Code

Virtual Function Tables and friends

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Makes reverse engineering happier Saves time Computers got fast enough to trace every single memory access

Why not?

HexRays – With data types


Has anyone approached the problem?

Dynamic analysis
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Howard: Dynamic Excavator for Reverse Engineering Data Structures Rewards: DDE, Dynamic Data Structure Excavation WYSINWYX: What You See Is Not What You eXecute

Static analysis

Based on abstract interpretation, blah, blah, blah!

The Rewards / Howard approach

Trace every single memory access
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Heap Stack System Calls Library Calls Special purpose instructions

Define type sinks
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For instance, string manipulation instructions on Intel architecture.

Propagate recovered types Analyze the memory trace

Type Sinks

A type sink is a function, syscall or instruction that we know which types it is taking System calls and standard libraries are the more verbose

For instance:
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ssize_t read(int fd, void *buf, size_t count); Leaks four types: ssize_t, int, void *, size_t Also we can extract semantics
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We know that 'fd' is a descriptor 'buf' is a buffer Etc.

Type Sinks

Instructions can also leak types

Intel String Operations

CMPS, INS, LODS, MOVS, OUTS, SCAS, STOS FADD, FDIV, FMUL, and so on. JG / JL → Signed Integers JA / JB → Unsigned Integers Data dereferences leak half a type

Intel Floating Point Instructions

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Memory dereferences

We just know the dereferenced address is a pointer We know that the dereferenced address contains a pointer to a function.

Indirect calls leak function pointer types

What do we want to recognize?

Things to recognize:
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Structures / Classes Arrays Pointers Study how the memory is accessed


Identifying Pointers

Pointers are 'easy' to detect
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Just see what instructions dereference memory The dereferenced argument must be a valid pointer

Otherwise the program would crash We cannot yet know the type of the pointer If we are lucky enough, and by lucky I mean that we have sufficient code coverage, we will identify the type of the pointer.

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Warning : we are entering
the terrain of the incomplete and unsound assumptions.

Absolute correctness

Do we really care about absolute correctness?
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Hint → I don't Even if we could automatically identify a fraction of the types correctly, that saves us work. Inconsistent typing is detected by humans We cannot get back what is not there

Eventually decisions/corrections must be done

We are not aiming to solve unsolvable problems

Compilation is not bidirectional

Although Rolf may argue this I've been told ;)

Identifying Structures

Typically structure fields are accessed in an indirect way

This depends heavily on the compiler and the optimization level. Often, access patterns will be similar. Let A be a base pointer *(A + 0) is the first field *(A + 8) is the second field And so on

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Identifying Structures

What we want to do is to detect indirect memory addresses.

We can obtain this from a memory trace What if A was not a structure
– – – –

But …

Let A be an array *(A + 0) is the first element *(A + 8) is the second element And … we are screwed There is no base pointer

Also, sometimes structure fields are accessed directly

Identifying Structures

There is no way we can decide, with certainty, whether a pointer points to a structure or an array
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We have to make unsound assumptions Rely on compiler specific constructs Heuristics And why not a bit of magic Still, less work than reversing manually

In the end, manual work needs to be done

Identifying Structures

To distinguish between arrays and structures we use some heuristics

Memory accesses are generally scattered

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Access field at offset 0x00 Then offset 0x10 And so on

Size of the access is generally heterogeneous

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Access field 2 which is an integer Then access field 3 which is a short integer Etc.

Identifying Structures - Example

Memory accesses

1 – DWORD 2 – DWORD 3 – WORD 4 – WORD 5 – DWORD 6 – BYTE 7 – WORD

2 3 5

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4 7

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Identifying Structures

There are a considerable amount of cases where this will fail

The most trivial cases
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Initializing a structure with “memset” Copying a structure with “memcpy” If we have more than one access pattern, favor the more irregular

How do we solve this

Identifying Arrays

We can identify arrays by watching memory accesses on loops

There are two cases
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Sequential memory accesses Random memory accesses

Identifying Arrays

Sequential memory accesses
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Let A be a pointer We are on a loop A is dereferenced at loop cycle one. B is generated also at loop cycle one. Next iteration B is dereferenced. A is likely an array pointer

Identifying Arrays

Random memory accesses

If all the accesses are of the same size we have a hint that we are dealing with an array.

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But it is also likely that it could be an structure. This is getting hairy.

So, where are we?

Where are we?

Detecting whether a pointer points to an array or a structure is essentially an educated guess.
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We need to further “educate” ourselves We need to have stronger assumptions that we can rely on. What about address reutilization

Tracing stack memory accesses is tricky

We need to tag every address with a TAG to differentiate two identical addresses accessed in different times

Tracing all memory accesses is painfully slow

We are interested in large binaries

Are we screwed then?
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Not really We need to make our analysis a little bit more specific
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Hence less complete But more accurate

It is all about giving up a bit of generality for a bit more of accuracy

Looking for better waves

Focus on Heap Objects


Heap objects are shared. We like data that is shared

It leads to good things from an vulnerability research point “malloc” like functions give us the size of the chunks Hook allocation routines and tag the returned memory with a unique id Hook also deallocation routines to keep track of valid memory chunks

We have more information

It is easier to track heap memory
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Object Oriented Code

Objects are basically structures with methods
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Each object method needs to somehow reference its underlying object. Objects of a given class share a set of common characteristics Or at least those object with shared state information We are dealing with structures of know size Now the whole address space is reduced to a fraction of its size

Most of them come from the heap

So if we focus on objects, the problem is a bit less complicated
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Just analyze the .heap Hook the allocation routine → The block is alive Hook the free routine → The block is dead

Keeping track of the life of a heap memory region is simple
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How to detect objects?

Not every single heap chunk is an object Heuristics!

Take advantage of calling conventions
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Visual Studio: will set the 'ecx' register to the 'this' pointer GCC 32 bits: pushes as the first method argument the object GCC 64 bits: 'rsi' is set to the 'this' pointer

So we mark every tracked heap chunk that is on “ecx”, “rsi” or the first argument of a function as a possible object The object must be used inside the potential method

How to detect methods

There is no sound way We have to trust our heuristics

Which are better than most Anti-Virus heuristics :P The dynamic nature of a trace makes us rely on code coverage. Sometimes the this pointer remains spuriously in 'ecx'

We are going to miss some methods

We are going to mark some functions as methods

So, how are we now?

We are doing better!

We can detect “interesting objects”
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We know its size We know where they are being used Detect fields Detect relationships with other types
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What else we need to do?
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Inheritance Composition

Detecting Object Fields
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We already have all heap memory accesses in our trace If the memory access is to one of our interesting objects we save the access offset and size Since we only track interesting objects the analysis is much quicker We can implement the algorithms used by Howard/Rewards

If we have information from type sinks, we can propagate it

Detecting methods

On each function call check if ECX points to a heap object.

If true
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Mark the chunk as interesting Save the access offset for future usage

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Mark the function as interesting Does this function get called again with the same conditions?

That is, the same function gets called with a chunk of the same size as the 'this' parameter

How far can we go?

How far can we go?

With all the collected traces we can obtain quite a lot of information
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Class Hierarchy Virtual Function Tables Types! Bonus (not really related with type inference)
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Code coverage information Indirect branch resolution

How can we achieve this?

Virtual Function Tables

Useful to help IDA Pro to discover more functions For each write to an interesting chunk

Is the value written referring to .text ?

Is [value] also in .text?

This is for sure a Virtual Function Table

If not, it is just a field update


Type reconstruction algorithm is divided in three phases

First Analysis Pass (FAP)

Pun intended

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Second Analysis Pass (SAP) Third Analysis Pass (TAP)

First Analysis Pass

For each function

Get all its interesting chunks

That is chunks that were passed as the 'this' argument Set the composite type size to the size of the chunk

Mark the whole chunk as a composite type

If 'this' does not point to the first byte of the chunk, get the offset

Divide the composite chunk in two types at the calculated offset

Repeat the process with all the methods that used the chunk and subdivide the composite type

First Analysis Pass
chunk_address = A ecx_address = A + 0 Composite Type Composite Type TypeA Offset = 0


In this case, TypeA fills the whole composite type

First Analysis Pass
chunk_address = A ecx_address = A + C Composite Type Composite Type TypeA

TypeB Chunk

Offset = C

In this case there are two types, we recognize this because there were two methods called with 'this' pointing at the same memory chunk but at a different offset.

First Analysis Pass – continued
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Add the current function to a list of methods For each write to the interesting chunk
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Add a field at the offset of the write Mark the field with the corresponding basic type according to the write size

For instance, a write of four bytes is marked as “uint32_t”

First Analysis Pass – continued

Collect a set of constraints

For each chunk that was received as the 'this' argument build a map from the method address to a list of all the types created. This will be later used build relationships between types and subsequent merging of identical types

Type_A Type_B method_at_0xcafecafe Type_C

Size = X_1 Size = X_1 Size = X_2

Second Analysis Pass

Merge similar types

Cheat by first using the type constraints collected on the FAP phase They have the same size

How do we define similar?

Equal types with differing sizes will be addressed in the third pass That is, at offset O there is a type T of size S in both types How many?
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They have equivalent fields

They share a set of methods

Let N be the number of methods in Type1 Let M be the number of methods in Type2 Let S be the number of shared methods SimilarityIndex(N,M,S) = (S / (N+M)) * 100 If SimilarityIndex > SimilarityThreshold then they are similar

Third Analysis Pass

There are types that share methods and fields but they differ in size What is going on?

There are two possible scenarios

Type2 in inherits from Type1

len(Type2) > len(Type1) most of the times This is the case of for example strings in some browsers

The type has an internal buffer

Inheritance / Composition

A simple inheritance relationship is translated into a composition of structures

Inheritance / Composition
ClassA Field1 Field2 Field3 Field4 ClassB ClassA Field1 Field2 Field3 Field4 Field1 Field2 Field3

Inheritance / Composition

Two classes of different size use the same method The bigger one is likely the child class The smallest one is likely the parent class This heuristic can fail

Say that we have a dynamically allocated buffer inside a class

Rare, weird, but it can and will happen

Failure will generate an extra type but the relationships between the types will still be interesting and can be detected by a human once the information is imported into IDA Pro

Hard example :)

Example string class that will contain metadata and contents on the same chunk of memory Other recurring complex examples are hash tables

StringClass StringMetadata uint32_t len AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA … AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA ???????????????

Increasing accuracy

Increasing accuracy

Accuracy of our approach is directly related with code coverage

The more code coverage, the more accuracy The “smart” way
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Increasing code coverage

We can tweak Klee (requires source code) We can code our version of SAGE
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??? Profit

The “other” way
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Fuzz the application like a 15 year old Gather a set of input files (if possible) and calculate the set of files that gets the maximum coverage

Static Analysis

How can we further validate our results?

Detecting calling convention

We have collected a fair amount of information, how can we propagate this information?

Propagating the type information into basic blocks not executed on the trace Or we can be lazy and let HexRays decompiler to do it for us :)

Calling convention detection

A spurious function calls can happen when a non method function is called on a method The function call can receive the 'this' pointer of the previous method call We avoid this case by ruling out all the function calls that do not behave as thiscall

Calling convention detection

Given a function get its CFG Obtain a DAG (direct acyclic graph) Do a topological sort Assume ECX is a 'this' pointer

Add it to a list of 'this' aliases If instruction kills any of the 'this' aliases

For each basic block

If the alias list is empty return “not thiscall” Add the new alias to the list

If the instruction aliases one of the 'this' pointers

If the instruction accesses memory using one of the aliases of 'this' then the function is likely 'thiscall'

Calling convention detection
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This can fail too Generally it gives a correct answer in 90% of the analyzed function

These results were validated by analyzing binaries with symbols available

In practice this information allows us to detect spurious functions detected as methods of a class

Example: calc.exe types

Example: calc.exe types

Example: calc.exe types


Thanks to
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Juliano Rizzo Nicolas Waisman Pablo Sole Sean Heelan Topo Muñiz