memory safety and weak references

Brendan Eich brendan at
Tue Mar 26 18:02:42 PDT 2013

David Herman wrote:
> Patrick Walton send me this link to a fascinating approach to exploiting weak references in engines using conservative stack scanning to discover the address of objects:
> I don't fully grok all the details, but IIUC the attacker sprays the heap with objects that it holds weak references to, synthesizes a fake reference as an integer, triggers a conservative GC, and then uses the state of the weak references to figure out which object lived at that address. As a concrete example of how this can be used to do bad things: in conjunction with an exploit that allows jumping to an arbitrary memory location, this would effectively enable arbitrary code execution.

Dion did the JITSpray paper at BlackHat 2010:

> One immediate takeaway: Mark deserves serious kudos, because Dionysus was not able to figure out how to use this attack on WeakMaps. He explicitly mentions the work on WeakMaps and credits them for having been well designed for security. Well done!

Yes, and somehow Andreas Gal and Andrew McCreight's impl in SpiderMonkey 
/ Firefox resisted Dion's hashtable-growth timing channel attack. Double 
kudos, even if luck!

(This needs more investigation, though.)

> But we need to take this into account as we consider what to do about weak references in ES7.



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