Adaptive Kernel Live Patching: An Open Collaborative Effort to Ameliorate Android N-Day Root Exploits

Presented at Black Hat USA 2016, Aug. 3, 2016, 1:50 p.m. (50 minutes)

Although 0-day exploits are dangerous, we have to admit that the largest threat for Android users are kernel vulnerabilities that have been disclosed but remain unfixed. Having been in the spotlight for weeks or even months, these kernel vulnerabilities usually have clear and stable exploits; therefore, underground businesses commonly utilize them in malware and APTs. The reason for the long periods of remaining unfixed is complex, partly due to the time-consuming patching and verification procedures, or possibly because the vendors care more about innovating new products than securing existing devices. As such, there are still a lot devices all over the world subject to root attacks. The different patching status of various vendors causes fragmentation, and vendors usually don't provide the exact up-to-date kernel source code for all devices, so it is extremely difficult to patch vulnerable devices in scale. We will provide stats of the current Android kernel vulnerability landscape, including the device model population and the corresponding vulnerability rates. Some vulnerabilities with great impact but slow fixing progress will be discussed. The whole community strives to solve this problem, but obviously this cannot be done discretely with limited hands.

In this talk, we present an adaptive Android kernel live patching framework, which enables open and live patching for kernels. It has the following advantages: (1) It enables online hotpatching without interrupting user-experience. Unlike existing Linux kernel hotpatching solutions, it works directly on binaries and can automatically adjust to different device models with different Android kernel versions. (2) It enables third party vendors, who may not access the exact source code of the device kernel and drivers, to perform live patching. (3) Except for the binary patching scheme, it also provides a Lua based patching scheme, which makes patch generation and delivery even easier. It also has stronger confinement. This framework saves developers from repeating the tedious and error-prone patch porting work, and patches can be provided from various vendors, thus the patch deployment period can be greatly shortened. Only offering the power to perform adaptive live patching is not enough -- we need to regulate it just in case the hotpatches introduce further vulnerabilities and backdoors. So, a special alliance with membership qualification is formed. Only those selected vendors can provide patches and audit patches submitted from other alliance members. Furthermore, we will build a reputation ranking system for the patch providers, a mechanism similar to app stores. The Lua based patching scheme can provide even more restrictive regulations upon the operations of patches. Finally, this framework can be easily extended and applied to general Linux platforms. We believe that improving the security of the whole ecosystem is not a dream of our own. We call for more and more parties to join in this effort to fight the evils together.


  • Tao Wei - Baidu X-Lab
    Dr. Tao (Lenx) Wei is the head of Baidu X-Lab. Prior to joining Baidu, he was an associate professor at Peking University. His research interests include software analysis and system protection, web trust and privacy, programing languages, and mobile security.
  • Yulong Zhang - Baidu X-Lab
    Yulong Zhang is currently working at Baidu conducting the research and development of the next generation methodologies to analyze advanced mobile malware, and to design security products to detect and defend mobile threats.


Similar Presentations: