Performance of Compiler-Assisted Memory Safety Checking

David Keaton, Robert C. Seacord


Buffer overflows affect a large installed base of C code. This technical note describes the criteria for deploying a compiler-based memory safety checking tool and the performance that can be achieved with two such tools whose source code is freely available. The note then describes a modification to the LLVM compiler to enable hoisting bounds checks from loops and functions. This proof-of-concept prototype has been used to demonstrate how these optimizations can be performed reliably on bounds checks to improve their performance. However, the performance of bounds propagation is the dominant cost, and the overall runtime cost for bounds checking for C remains expensive, even after these optimizations are applied. Nevertheless, optimized bounds checks are adequate for non-performance-critical applications, and improvements in processor technology may allow optimized bounds checking to be used with performance-critical applications.


Categories: Secure Coding

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About the Speakers

David Keaton
Robert C. Seacord

Robert C. Seacord is a senior vulnerability analyst in the CERT® Program at the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) in Pittsburgh, PA where he leads the Secure Coding Initiative. Robert is the author of The CERT C Secure Coding Standard (Addison-Wesley, 2008) and Secure Coding in C and C++(Addison-Wesley, 2002) as well as co-author of two other books. Robert is an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a technical expert for ISO/IEC JTC1/SC22/WG14, the international standardization working group for the programming language C.