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Katana: A Hot Patching Framework for ELF Executables
Ashwin Ramaswamy, Sergey Bratus, Michael E. Locasto, Sean W. Smith
Dartmouth TR2009-657

Abstract:

Despite advances in software modularity, security, and reliability, offline patching remains the predominant form of updating or protecting commodity software. Unfortunately, the mechanics of hot patching (the process of upgrading a program while it executes) remain understudied, even though such a capability offers practical benefits for both consumer and mission-critical systems.

A reliable hot patching procedure would serve particularly well by reducing the downtime necessary for critical functionality or security upgrades. Yet, hot patching also carries the risk -- real or perceived -- of leaving the system in an inconsistent state, which leads many owners to forego its benefits as too risky.

In this paper, we propose a novel method for hot patching ELF binaries that supports (a) synchronized global data and code updates and (b) reasoning about the results of applying the hot patch. We propose a format, which we call a Patch Object, for encoding patches as a special type of ELF relocatable object file. Our tool, Katana, automatically creates these patch objects as a by-product of the standard source build process. Katana also allows an end-user to apply the Patch Objects to a running process. In essence, our method can be viewed as an extension of the Application Binary Interface (ABI), and we argue for its inclusion in future ABI standards.


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   Ashwin Ramaswamy, Sergey Bratus, Michael E. Locasto, and Sean W. Smith, "Katana: A Hot Patching Framework for ELF Executables." Dartmouth Computer Science Technical Report TR2009-657, September 2009.


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