2015 In Review

Now that the new year is upon us, we can look back and take assessment of 2015. The past year saw Trail of Bits continuing our prior work, such as automated vulnerability discovery and remediation, and branching out into new areas, like secure self-hosted video chat. We also increased our community outreach: we advocated against reactionary regulation, supported security-related non-profits, hosted a bi-monthly security meetup in NYC, and more. Here are just some of the ways we helped improve the state of security and privacy in 2015.

Participated In DARPA’s Cyber Grand Challenge

Find and patch the vulnerabilities in 131 purposely built insecure programs. In 24 hours. Without human intervention. That was the challenge we entered our Cyber Reasoning System (CRS) into. Despite some issues with patching performance, we are very proud of the results; our system identified vulnerabilities in 65 of those programs and rewrote 94 of them to eliminate the bugs. In the coming year we’ll be focusing on adapting our CRS to find and patch vulnerabilities in real software automatically.

Advocated Against Reactionary Regulation

As worrisome as online attacks are today, we find hasty government regulation just as unsettling. Some proposed expansions to the Wassenaar Arrangement would hamper the U.S. cybersecurity industry. That’s why we immediately endorsed the Coalition for Responsible Cybersecurity’s mission to ensure that U.S. export control regulations do not negatively impact U.S. cybersecurity effectiveness. See our comments to the Bureau of Industry and Standards.

Contributed To Cyber Security Awareness Week (CSAW)

CSAW holds a special place in our hearts. Many of our team, from the founders to our newest hires, honed their skills on past years’ challenges. This year, we contributed five CTF challenges for the qualifying round: wyvern, bricks of gold, sharpturn, punchout, and “Math aside, we’re all black hats now.” (For teams willing to post helpful writeups, we passed out some stylish Trail of Bits attire.) Finally, we helped to shape the policy competition, which challenged participants to explore the possibility of a national bug bounty.

Added 64-bit Support To mcsema

Trail of Bits’ mcsema is an open-source framework for translating x86 and now x86-64 binaries into LLVM bitcode. It enables existing LLVM-based program analysis tools to operate on binary-only software. When we open sourced mcsema, we were hoping the community would respond with fixes, high quality contributions, and bug reports. Our hopes came to fruition when we received an open source contribution to support translation of x86-64 binaries. Many modern applications are compiled for 64-bit architectures like x86-64; and now mcsema can start translating them. We hope to see many more contributions in the new year.

Launched Bi-Monthly Meetup, Empire Hacking

We created Empire Hacking to serve as a space where the security research community could come together to freely share ideas and discuss the latest developments in security research. Empire Hacking happens bi-monthly in NYC and features talks on current topics in computer security. We are always looking for speakers (a great way to get feedback on your talk and distill your thoughts). Everyone, even journalists, are welcome. Empire Hacking is a free event. If you’d like to attend, please apply on our meetup.com page.

Published First-Ever Guide For Securing Google Apps

More than five million companies rely on Google Apps to run their critical business functions, like email, document storage, calendaring, and chat. In the wake of the OPM incident, we shared our top recommendations for small businesses who want avoid the worst security problems while expending minimal effort. These are the essential practices that every small business should follow if they use Google Apps.

Trained Ruby Developers

Vast, lucrative swathes of the Internet were exposed to attackers when vulnerabilities were discovered in features and common idioms in Ruby. While nearly all large, tested and trusted open-source Ruby projects contained some of these vulnerabilities, few developers were aware of the risks. So, we published our RubySec Field Guide.

Hosted An Awesome Intern Who Made The Internet Safer

After she impressed us in the CTF challenges at CSAW 2014, we offered Loren a summer internship. As a self-starter and a quick study, she uncovered and reported vulnerabilities using american fuzzy lop and Microsoft MiniFuzz, found bugs in an NYC tech startup’s software, and presented her findings in a meeting with the company. We’re glad to have her back for her senior year of high school. She’ll be an asset to any college that’s lucky enough to have her.

Dragged The CTF Community Closer To Windows Expertise

Despite Windows being such an important part of our industry, American CTFs don’t release Windows-based challenges. They all come from Russia. This needs to change. The next crop of security researchers needs more Windows-based challenges and competitions. That’s why we released AppJailLauncher, a framework for making exploitable Windows challenges, keeping everything secure from griefers, and isolating a Windows TCP service from the rest of the operating system.

Lit Up The Flare-On Challenges

From simple password crack-mes to kernel drivers to steganography in images, FireEye’s second annual Flare-On Challenge had something for everyone (that is, if you were a reverse engineer, malware analyst, or security professional). Their eleven challenges encompassed an array of anti-reversing techniques and formats. We wrote up the four challenges that we took on (six, seven, nine, and eleven), as well the more useful tools and techniques that might help in future challenges.

Opened Sourced Our Self-Hosted Video Chat

‘Tuber’ is everything your team needs for secure video chat. It touts all the standard features you expect from Google Hangouts -like buttons to mute audio and turn off video selectively- and it’s engineered to work flawlessly on a corporate LAN with low latency and CPU usage. If you need video conferencing that doesn’t rely on any third-party services, you should check out Tuber.

Financially Supported Let’s Encrypt

We sponsored Let’s Encrypt, the free, automated, and open Certificate Authority (CA) that went into public beta on December 3. With so much room for improvement in the CA space, Let’s Encrypt offers a refreshing, promising vision of encrypting the web. We believe this will significantly improve HTTPS adoption, ensuring everyone benefits from a more secure Internet. That’s precisely why we’re supporting this initiative with a large (for us) donation and we hope you’ll join us in sponsoring Let’s Encrypt.

Sponsored Six Academic Events

We are proud of our roots in academia and research, and we believe it’s important to promote cybersecurity education for all students. This year, we sponsored and contributed to these events that sought to motivate and educate students of every academic level:

Looking Ahead

We have many exciting things planned for 2016. More of our automated vulnerability discovery and remediation technology is going to be open sourced. Ryan Stortz will be speaking at INFILTRATE 2016 on Swift reverse engineering, and his talk will be complemented with a blog post and whitepaper. We will also be releasing a new specialized fuzzer that we have used on several engagements. To continue community outreach, we will host an LLVM hackathon to create new program analysis tools and contribute changes back to the LLVM project. And last but not least, expect a makeover of the Trail of Bits website.

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