The Foundation of 2015: 2014 in Review

We need to do more to protect ourselves. 2014 overflowed with front-page proof: Apple, Target, JPMorgan Chase, etc, etc.

The current, vulnerable status quo begs for radical change, an influx of talented people, and substantially better tools. As we look ahead to driving that change in 2015, we’re proud to highlight a selection of our 2014 accomplishments that will underpin that work.

1. Open-source framework to transform binaries to LLVM bitcode

Our framework for analyzing and transforming machine-code programs to LLVM bitcode became a new tool in the program analysis and reverse engineering communities. McSema connects the world of LLVM program analysis and manipulation tools to binary executables. Currently it supports the translation of semantics for x86 programs and supports subsets of integer arithmetic, floating point, and vector operations.

2. Shaped smarter public policy

The spate of national-scale computer security incidents spurred anxious conversation and action. To pre-empt poorly conceived laws from poorly informed lawmakers, we worked extensively with influential think tanks to help educate our policy makers on the finer points of computer security. The Center for a New American Security’s report “Surviving on a Diet of Poisoned Fruit” was just one result of this effort.

3. More opportunities for women

As part of our ongoing collaboration with NYU-Poly, Trail of Bits put its support behind the CSAW Program for High School Women and Career Discovery in Cyber Security Symposium. These events are intended to help guide talented and interested women into careers in computer security. We want to create an environment where women have the resources to contribute and excel in this industry.

4. Empirical data on secure development practices

In contrast with traditional security contests, Build-it, Break-it, Fix-it rewards secure software development under the same pressures that lead to bugs: tight deadlines, performance requirements, competition, and the allure of money. We were invited to share insights from the event at Microsoft’s Bluehat v14.

5. Three separate Cyber Fast Track projects

Under DARPA’s Program Manager Peiter ‘Mudge’ Zatko, we completed three distinct projects in the revolutionary Cyber Fast Track program: CodeReason, MAST, and PointsTo. Five of our employees went to the Pentagon to demonstrate our creations to select members of the Department of Defense. We’re happy to have participated and been recognized for our work. We’re now planning on giving back; CodeReason will be making an open-source release in 2015!

6. Taught machines to find Heartbleed

Heartbleed, the infamous OpenSSL vulnerability, went undetected for so long because it’s hard for static analyzers to detect. So, Andrew Ruef took on the challenge and wrote a checker for clang-analyzer that can find Heartbleed and other bugs like it automatically. We released the code for others to learn from.

7. A resource for students of computer security

One of the most fun and effective ways to learn computer security is by competing in Capture the Flag events. But many fledgling students don’t know where to get started. So we wrote the Capture the Flag Field Guide to help them get involved and encourage them to take the first steps down this career path.

8. The iCloud Hack spurs our two-factor authentication guide

Adding two-factor authentication is always a good idea. Just ask anyone whose account has been compromised. If you store any sensitive information with Google, Apple ID or Dropbox, you’ll want to know about our guide to adding an extra layer of protection to your accounts.

9. Accepted into DARPA’s Cyber Grand Challenge

The prize: $2 million. The challenge: Build a robot that can repair insecure software without human input. If successful, this program will have a profound impact on the way companies secure their data in the future. We were selected as one of seven funded teams to compete.

10. THREADS 2014: How to automate security

Our CEO Dan Guido chaired THREADS, a research and development conference that takes place at NYU-Poly’s Cyber Security Awareness Week (CSAW). This year’s theme focused on scaling security — ensuring that security is an integral and automated part of software development and deployment models. We believe that the success of automated security is essential to our ever more internetworked society and devices. See talks and slides from the event.

Looking ahead.

This year, we’re excited to develop and share more code, including: improvements to McSema (i.e. support for LLVM 3.5, lots more SSE and FPU instruction support, and a new control flow recovery module based on JakStab), a private videochat service, and an open-source release of CodeReason. We’re also excited about Ghost in the Shellcode (GitS) — a capture the flag competition at ShmooCon in Washington DC in January that three of our employees are involved in running. And don’t forget about DARPA’s Cyber Grand Challenge qualifying event in June.

For now, we hope you’ll connect with us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter.

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