August 2, 2021

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Automatic Firmware Emulation through Invalidity-guided Knowledge Inference (Extended Version). (arXiv:2107.07759v1 [cs.CR])

Emulating firmware for microcontrollers is challenging due to the tight
coupling between the hardware and firmware. This has greatly impeded the
application of dynamic analysis tools to firmware analysis. The
state-of-the-art work automatically models unknown peripherals by observing
their access patterns, and then leverages heuristics to calculate the
appropriate responses when unknown peripheral registers are accessed. However,
we empirically found that this approach and the corresponding heuristics are
frequently insufficient to emulate firmware. In this work, we propose a new
approach called uEmu to emulate firmware with unknown peripherals. Unlike
existing work that attempts to build a general model for each peripheral, our
approach learns how to correctly emulate firmware execution at individual
peripheral access points. It takes the image as input and symbolically executes
it by representing unknown peripheral registers as symbols. During symbolic
execution, it infers the rules to respond to unknown peripheral accesses. These
rules are stored in a knowledge base, which is referred to during the dynamic
firmware analysis. uEmu achieved a passing rate of 95% in a set of unit tests
for peripheral drivers without any manual assistance. We also evaluated uEmu
with real-world firmware samples and new bugs were discovered.