Sunday, May 29, 2016

37th IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy

The 37th IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy took place last week in San Jose, California. Although there wasn't an awful lot to see in San Jose itself (direct quote from the Uber driver who took me to the hotel), the conference was full of people from all different backgrounds and interests, which made networking very interesting indeed.

This was my first big conference I had attended, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I definitely didn't expect six hundred people to turn up, which was quite overwhelming at first. It also meant the biscuits at break time went very quickly. However, the atmosphere was very enjoyable and I had a fantastic time listening to all the presentations and speeches from various members of the IEEE community.

The papers covered all different aspects of Security and Privacy, from a paper on the Formal Treatment and Implications for TLS 1.3 [1], to a Survey of Techniques against Telephone Spam [2]. After the three days of the conference, it split into six 'workshops'. I mostly attended MoST - the Mobile Security Technologies Workshop - but went to a couple of talks on the BioStar stream - the Workshop on Bio-inspired Security, Trust, Assurance and Resilience.

One of the most enjoyable talks of the conference was on a paper titled "Users Really Do Plug In USB Drives They Find" [3], which follows academics from the University of Illinois littering USB drives round the University campus, containing labels like 'Top Secret Information', or even 'All Exam Answers' (this experiment took place just before finals). Inside each drive were a variety of 'inconspicuous' documents, all html files in disguise linking to a survey that logged the time and filename to a server when users clicked on one of the files. They dropped 297 USB drives around, and 290 of these were picked up (or rather, no longer in their original position). From these 290 that were picked up, 135 people opened a file on them. This is a big security risk, as these USB drives could have malicious files on them, that could infect the host machine if plugged in and run.

The most interesting talk for me was "Dedup Est Machina: Memory Deduplication as an Advanced Exploitation Vector" [4]. Memory deduplication is a technique (default in Windows 8.1 and 10) that 'maps multiple identical copies of a physical page onto a single shared copy with copy-on-write semantics'. However, as writing to a shared page takes longer than writing to a normal page, this is a target for timing side channel attacks. The paper not only exploits this, but goes on to develop a JavaScript-based attack against the Microsoft Edge browser, that allows arbitrary memory read and write access in the browser using a reliable Rowhammer exploit.

Overall, the conference was rewarding and worthwhile experience, and I recommend the conference to anyone interested in the fields of Security and Privacy, or who want some free t-shirts from the various sponsors.


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