Logging to the Danger Zone: Race Condition Attacks and Defenses on System Audit Frameworks

Riccardo Paccagnella, Kevin Liao, Dave (Jing) Tian, and Adam Bates.
27th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS'20).
The Internet. November 9, 2020.
Available Media


For system logs to aid in security investigations, they must be beyond the reach of the adversary. Unfortunately, attackers that have escalated privilege on a host are typically able to delete and modify log events at will. In response to this threat, a variety of secure logging systems have appeared over the years that attempt to provide tamper-resistance (e.g., write-once read-many drives, remote storage servers) or tamper-evidence (e.g., cryptographic proofs) for system logs. These solutions expose an interface through which events are at some point committed to a secure log, at which point they enjoy protection from future tampering. However, all proposals to date have relied on the assumption that an event’s occurrence is concomitant with its commitment to the secured log.

In this work, we challenge this assumption by presenting and validating a race condition attack on the integrity of audit frameworks. Our attack exploits the intrinsically asynchronous nature of I/O and IPC activity, demonstrating that an attacker can snatch events about their intrusion out of message buffers after they have occurred but before they are committed to the log, thus bypassing all existing protections. We present a first step towards defending against our attack by introducing KennyLoggings, the first kernel-based tamper-evident logging system that satisfies the synchronous integrity property, meaning that it guarantees tamper-evidence of events upon their occurrence. We implement KennyLoggings on top of the Linux kernel, and show that it imposes between 8% and 11% overhead on log-intensive application workloads.