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Automatic Exploit Generation

Automatic Exploit Generation, illustration

Credit: Iwona Usakiewicz / Andrij Borys Associates

Attackers commonly exploit buggy programs to break into computers. Security-critical bugs pave the way for attackers to install trojans, propagate worms, and use victim computers to send spam and launch denial-of-service attacks. A direct way, therefore, to make computers more secure is to find security-critical bugs before they are exploited by attackers.

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Unfortunately, bugs are plentiful. For example, the Ubuntu Linux bug-management database listed more than 103,000 open bugs as of January 2013. Specific widely used programs (such as the Firefox Web browser and the Linux 3.x kernel) list 7,597 and 1,293 open bugs in their public bug trackers, respectively.a Other projects, including those that are closed-source, likely involve similar statistics. These are just the bugs we know; there is always the persistent threat of zero-day exploits, or attacks against previously unknown bugs.

Among the thousands of known bugs, which should software developers fix first? Which are exploitable? How would you go about finding the unknown exploitable ones that still lurk?


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