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Countering Trusting Trust through Diverse Double-Compiling
From: "David A. Wheeler" <dwheeler () ida org>
Date: Mon, 12 Dec 2005 17:03:54 -0500

Everyone here should be familiar with Ken Thompson's famous
"Reflections on Trusting Trust." If not, see:
 http://www.acm.org/classics/sep95/
The "trusting trust" attack subverts the compiler binary;
if attacker succeeds, you're doomed. Well, til now.

I've written a paper on an approach to counter this attack. See:
 "Countering Trusting Trust through Diverse Double-Compiling"
 http://www.acsa-admin.org/2005/abstracts/47.html

Here's the abstract:
"An Air Force evaluation of Multics, and Ken Thompson's famous Turing award
lecture "Reflections on Trusting Trust," showed that compilers can be subverted
to insert malicious Trojan horses into critical software, including themselves.
If this attack goes undetected, even complete analysis of a system's source code
will not find the malicious code that is running, and methods for detecting this
particular attack are not widely known. This paper describes a practical
technique, termed diverse double-compiling (DDC),
that detects this attack and some unintended compiler defects as well.
Simply recompile the purported source code twice: once with a second (trusted)
compiler, and again using the result of the first compilation.
If the result is bit-for-bit identical with the untrusted
binary, then the source code accurately represents the binary.
This technique has been mentioned informally, but its issues and
ramifications have not been identified or discussed in a
peer-reviewed work, nor has a public demonstration been made.
This paper describes the technique, justifies it, describes how
to overcome practical challenges, and demonstrates it."

I think you'll find this interesting.

--- David A. Wheeler



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