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Detecting kernel rootkits
Ashwin Ramaswamy
Dartmouth TR2008-627

Abstract: Kernel rootkits are a special category of malware that are deployed directly in the kernel and hence have unmitigated reign over the functionalities of the kernel itself. We seek to detect such rootkits that are deployed in the real world by first observing how the majority of kernel rootkits operate. To this end, comparable to how rootkits function in the real world, we write our own kernel rootkit that manipulates the network driver, thus giving us control over all packets sent into the network. We then implement a mechanism to thwart the attacks of such rootkits by noticing that a large number of the rootkits deployed today rely heavily on the redirection of function pointers within the kernel. By overwriting the desired function pointer to its own function, a rootkit can perform a proverbial man-in-the-middle attack. Our goal is not just the detection of kernel rootkits, but also to levy as little an impact on system performance as possible. Hence our technique is to leverage existing kernel functionalities (in the case of Linux) such as kprobes to identify potential attack scenarios from within the sytem rather than from outside it (such as a VMM). We hope to introduce real-world security in devices where performance and resource constraints are tantamount to security considerations.

Note: M.S. Thesis Proposal. Advisor: Sean W. Smith


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   Ashwin Ramaswamy, "Detecting kernel rootkits." Dartmouth Computer Science Technical Report TR2008-627, September 2008.

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