Not So Fast: Understanding and Mitigating Negative Impacts of Compiler Optimizations on Code Reuse Gadget Sets
Despite extensive testing and correctness certification of their functional semantics, a number of compiler optimizations have been shown to violate security guarantees implemented in source code. While prior work has shed light on how such optimizations may introduce semantic security weaknesses into programs, there remains a significant knowledge gap concerning the impacts of compiler optimizations on non-semantic properties with security implications. In particular, little is currently known about how code generation and optimization decisions made by the compiler affect the availability and utility of reusable code segments called gadgets required for implementing code reuse attack methods such as return-oriented programming.
In this paper, we bridge this gap through a study of the impacts of compiler optimization on code reuse gadget sets. We analyze and compare 1,187 variants of 20 different benchmark programs built with two production compilers (GCC and Clang) to determine how their optimization behaviors affect the code reuse gadget sets present in program variants with respect to both quantitative and qualitative metrics. Our study exposes an important and unexpected problem; compiler optimizations introduce new gadgets at a high rate and produce code containing gadget sets that are generally more useful to an attacker than those in unoptimized code. Using differential binary analysis, we identify several undesirable behaviors at the root of this phenomenon. In turn, we propose and evaluate several strategies to mitigate these behaviors. In particular, we show that post-production binary recompilation can effectively mitigate these behaviors with negligible performance impacts, resulting in optimized code with significantly smaller and less useful gadget sets.