Departmental Papers (CIS)

Date of this Version


Document Type

Conference Paper


Nagarakatte, S., Martin, M., & Zdancewic, S., Watchdog: Hardware for Safe and Secure Manual Memory Management and Full Memory Safety, 39th International Symposium on Computer Architecture, June 2012, doi: 10.1109/ISCA.2012.6237017


Languages such as C and C++ use unsafe manual memory management, allowing simple bugs (i.e., accesses to an object after deallocation) to become the root cause of exploitable security vulnerabilities. This paper proposes Watchdog, a hardware-based approach for ensuring safe and secure manual memory management. Inspired by prior software-only proposals, Watchdog generates a unique identifier for each memory allocation, associates these identifiers with pointers, and checks to ensure that the identifier is still valid on every memory access. This use of identifiers and checks enables Watchdog to detect errors even in the presence of reallocations. Watchdog stores these pointer identifiers in a disjoint shadow space to provide comprehensive protection and ensure compatibility with existing code. To streamline the implementation and reduce runtime overhead: Watchdog (1) uses micro-ops to access metadata and perform checks, (2) eliminates metadata copies among registers via modified register renaming, and (3) uses a dedicated metadata cache to reduce checking overhead. Furthermore, this paper extends Watchdog’s mechanisms to detect bounds errors, thereby providing full hardware-enforced memory safety at low overheads.



Date Posted: 27 July 2012