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CERIAS Security Seminar: In Pursuit of Silent Flaws: Dataflow Analysis for Bugfinding and Triage

The Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security
April 10, 2024
4:30 PM - 5:30 PM


Evan Sultanik
Trail of Bits

Abstract: In this presentation, I provide a thorough exploration of how dataflow analysis serves as a formidable method for discovering and addressing cybersecurity threats across a wide spectrum of vulnerability types. For instance, I'll illustrate how we can employ dynamic information flow tracking to automatically detect "blind spots"—sections of a program's input that can be changed without influencing its output. These blind spots are almost always indicative of an underlying bug. Furthermore, I will demonstrate how the use of hybrid control- and dataflow information in differential analysis can aid in uncovering variability bugs, commonly known as "heisenbugs." By delving into these practical applications of dataflow analysis and introducing open-source tools designed to implement these strategies, the goal is to present practical steps for pinpointing, debugging, and managing a diverse array of software bugs.


Dr. Evan Sultanik is a principal computer security researcher at Trail of Bits. His recent research covers language-theoretic security, program analysis, detecting variability bugs via taint analysis, dependency analysis via program instrumentation, and consensus protocols for distributed ledgers. He is an editor of and frequent contributor to the offensive computer security journal "Proof of Concept or GTFO." Prior to joining Trail of Bits, Dr. Sultanik was the Chief Scientist at Digital Operatives and, prior to that, a Senior Research Scientist at The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. His dissertation was on the discovery of a family of combinatorial optimization problems the solutions for which can be approximated constant factor of optimal in polylogarithmic time on a parallel computer or distributed system. This was a surprising result since many of the problems in the family are NP-Hard. In a life prior to academia, Evan was a professional software engineer.

The weekly security seminar has been held every semester since spring of 1992. We invite personnel at Purdue and visitors from outside to present on topics of particular interest to them in the areas of computer and network security, computer crime investigation, information warfare, information ethics, public policy for computing and security, the computing "underground," and other related topics. More info

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