Catalin Hritcu (Inria Paris, Prosecco team)

When Good Components Go Bad: Formally Secure Compilation Despite Dynamic Compromise

ABSTRACT: We propose a new formal criterion for evaluating secure compartmentalization schemes for unsafe languages like C and C++, expressing end-to-end security guarantees for software components that may become compromised after encountering undefined behavior---for example, by accessing an array out of bounds. Our criterion is the first to model dynamic compromise in a system of mutually distrustful components with clearly specified privileges. It articulates how each component should be protected from all the others---in particular, from components that have encountered undefined behavior and become compromised.

To illustrate the model, we construct a secure compilation chain for a small unsafe language with buffers, procedures, and components, targeting a simple abstract machine with built-in compartmentalization. We give a machine-checked proof in Coq that this compiler satisfies our secure compilation criterion. Finally, we show that the protection guarantees offered by the compartmentalized abstract machine can be achieved at the machine-code level using either software fault isolation or a tag-based reference monitor.

Catalin Hritcu is a researcher at Inria Paris where he works on security foundations. He is particularly interested in formal methods for security (secure compilation, compartmentalization, memory safety, security protocols, integrity, information flow), programming languages (program verification, type systems, proof assistants, semantics, formal metatheory, certified tools, property-based testing), and the design and verification of security-critical systems (reference monitors, secure compilation chains, secure hardware). He was awarded an ERC Starting Grant on formally secure compilation ( and is also actively involved in the design of the F* verification system ( and its use for building a formally verified HTTPS stack (

Catalin received his PhD from Saarland University, supported by fellowships from the International Max Planck Research School for Computer Science and Microsoft Research Cambridge. Recently he received a Habilitation degree from ENS Paris, and was previously also a Research Associate at University of Pennsylvania and a Visiting Researcher at Microsoft Research Redmond.

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