Tag Archives: chrome security

An update on Memory Safety in Chrome

Security is a cat-and-mouse game. As attackers innovate, browsers always have to mount new defenses to stay ahead, and Chrome has invested in ever-stronger multi-process architecture built on sandboxing and site isolation. Combined with fuzzing, these are still our primary lines of defense, but they are reaching their limits, and we can no longer solely rely on this strategy to defeat in-the-wild attacks.

Last year, we showed that more than 70% of our severe security bugs are memory safety problems. That is, mistakes with pointers in the C or C++ languages which cause memory to be misinterpreted.

This sounds like a problem! And, certainly, memory safety is an issue which needs to be taken seriously by the global software engineering community. Yet it’s also an opportunity because many bugs have the same sorts of root-causes, meaning we may be able to squash a high proportion of our bugs in one step.

Chrome has been exploring three broad avenues to seize this opportunity:

  1. Make C++ safer through compile-time checks that pointers are correct.
  2. Make C++ safer through runtime checks that pointers are correct.
  3. Investigating use of a memory safe language for parts of our codebase.

“Compile-time checks” mean that safety is guaranteed during the Chrome build process, before Chrome even gets to your device. “Runtime” means we do checks whilst Chrome is running on your device.

Runtime checks have a performance cost. Checking the correctness of a pointer is an infinitesimal cost in memory and CPU time. But with millions of pointers, it adds up. And since Chrome performance is important to billions of users, many of whom are using low-power mobile devices without much memory, an increase in these checks would result in a slower web.

Ideally we’d choose option 1 - make C++ safer, at compile time. Unfortunately, the language just isn’t designed that way. You can learn more about the investigation we've done in this area in Borrowing Trouble: The Difficulties Of A C++ Borrow-Checker that we're also publishing today.

So, we’re mostly left with options 2 and 3 - make C++ safer (but slower!) or start to use a different language. Chrome Security is experimenting with both of these approaches.

You’ll see major investments in C++ safety solutions - such as MiraclePtr and ABSL/STL hardened modes. In each case, we hope to eliminate a sizable fraction of our exploitable security bugs, but we also expect some performance penalty. For example, MiraclePtr prevents use-after-free bugs by quarantining memory that may still be referenced. On many mobile devices, memory is very precious and it’s hard to spare some for a quarantine. Nevertheless, MiraclePtr stands a chance of eliminating over 50% of the use-after-free bugs in the browser process - an enormous win for Chrome security, right now.

In parallel, we’ll be exploring whether we can use a memory safe language for parts of Chrome in the future. The leading contender is Rust, invented by our friends at Mozilla. This is (largely) compile-time safe; that is, the Rust compiler spots mistakes with pointers before the code even gets to your device, and thus there’s no performance penalty. Yet there are open questions about whether we can make C++ and Rust work well enough together. Even if we started writing new large components in Rust tomorrow, we’d be unlikely to eliminate a significant proportion of security vulnerabilities for many years. And can we make the language boundary clean enough that we can write parts of existing components in Rust? We don’t know yet. We’ve started to land limited, non-user-facing Rust experiments in the Chromium source code tree, but we’re not yet using it in production versions of Chrome - we remain in an experimental phase.

That’s why we’re pursuing both strategies in parallel. Watch this space for updates on our adventures in making C++ safer, and efforts to experiment with a new language in Chrome.

Announcing Bonus Rewards for V8 Exploits

Starting today, the Chrome Vulnerability Rewards Program is offering a new bonus for reports which demonstrate exploitability in V8, Chrome’s JavaScript engine. We have historically had many great V8 bugs reported (thank you to all of our reporters!) but we'd like to know more about the exploitability of different V8 bug classes, and what mechanisms are effective to go from an initial bug to a full exploit. That's why we're offering this additional reward for bugs that show how a V8 vulnerability could be used as part of a real world attack.

In the past, exploits had to be fully functional to be rewarded at our highest tier, high-quality report with functional exploit. Demonstration of how a bug might be exploited is one factor that the panel may use to determine that a report is high-quality, our second highest tier, but we want to encourage more of this type of analysis. This information is very useful for us when planning future mitigations, making release decisions, and fixing bugs faster. We also know it requires a bit more effort for our reporters, and that effort should be rewarded. For the time being this only applies to V8 bugs, but we’re curious to see what our reporters come up with!

The full details are available on the Chrome VRP rules page. At a high-level, we’re offering increased reward amounts, up to double, for qualifying V8 bugs.

The following table shows the updated reward amounts for reports qualifying for this new bonus. These new, higher values replace the normal reward. If a bug in V8 doesn’t fit into one of these categories, it may still qualify for an increased reward at the panel’s discretion.

[1] Baseline reports are unable to meet the requirements to qualify for this special reward.

So what does a report need to do to demonstrate that a bug is likely exploitable? Any V8 bug report which would have previously been rewarded at the high-quality report with functional exploit level will likely qualify with no additional effort from the reporter. By definition, these demonstrate that the issue was exploitable. V8 reports at the high-quality level may also qualify if they include evidence that the bug is exploitable as part of their analysis. See the rules page for more information about our reward levels.

The following are some examples of how a report could demonstrate that exploitation is likely, but any analysis or proof of concept will be considered by the panel:

  • Executing shellcode from the context of Chrome or d8 (V8’s developer shell)
  • Creating an exploit primitive that allows arbitrary reads from or writes to specific addresses or attacker-controlled offsets
  • Demonstrating instruction pointer control
  • Demonstrating an ASLR bypass by computing the memory address of an object in a way that’s exposed to script
  • Providing analysis of how a bug could lead to type confusion with a JSObject

For example reports, see issues 914736 and 1076708.

We’d like to thank all of our VRP reporters for helping us keep Chrome users safe! We look forward to seeing what you find.

-The Chrome Vulnerability Rewards Panel

Improved malware protection for users in the Advanced Protection Program

Google’s Advanced Protection Program helps secure people at higher risk of targeted online attacks, like journalists, political organizations, and activists, with a set of constantly evolving safeguards that reflect today’s threat landscape. Chrome is always exploring new options to help all of our users better protect themselves against common online threats like malware. As a first step, today Chrome is expanding its download scanning options for users of Advanced Protection.

Advanced Protection users are already well-protected from phishing. As a result, we’ve seen that attackers target these users through other means, such as leading them to download malware. In August 2019, Chrome began warning Advanced Protection users when a downloaded file may be malicious.

Now, in addition to this warning, Chrome is giving Advanced Protection users the ability to send risky files to be scanned by Google Safe Browsing’s full suite of malware detection technology before opening the file. We expect these cloud-hosted scans to significantly improve our ability to detect when these files are malicious.

When a user downloads a file, Safe Browsing will perform a quick check using metadata, such as hashes of the file, to evaluate whether it appears potentially suspicious. For any downloads that Safe Browsing deems risky, but not clearly unsafe, the user will be presented with a warning and the ability to send the file to be scanned. If the user chooses to send the file, Chrome will upload it to Google Safe Browsing, which will scan it using its static and dynamic analysis techniques in real time. After a short wait, if Safe Browsing determines the file is unsafe, Chrome will warn the user. As always, users can bypass the warning and open the file without scanning, if they are confident the file is safe. Safe Browsing deletes uploaded files a short time after scanning.

unknown.exe may be dangerous. Send to Google Advanced Protection for scanning?
Online threats are constantly changing, and it's important that users’ security protections automatically evolve as well. With the US election fast approaching, for example, Advanced Protection could be useful to members of political campaigns whose accounts are now more likely to be targeted. If you’re a user at high-risk of attack, visit g.co/advancedprotection to enroll in the Advanced Protection Program.