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CrowdStrike Beefs Up Exploit Detection With Intel CPU Telemetry

Anti-malware giant CrowdStrike says it is using telemetry from Intel processors to help detect and thwart sophisticated software exploits that bypass traditional OS-based defenses.

CrowdStrike said the CPU telemetry is powering a new Hardware Enhanced Exploit Detection feature in its Falcon platform and will help detect complex attack techniques that are notoriously hard to identify and expand memory safety protections on older PCs that lack modern anti-exploit mitigations.

“Once activated, the new feature detects exploits by analyzing suspicious operations associated with exploit techniques, such as shellcode injection, return-oriented programming,” CrowdStrike said.

The new detection technology has been fitted into version 6.27 of CrowdStrike’s Falcon sensor and is available on systems with Intel CPUs, sixth generation or newer, running Windows 10 RS4 or later.

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According to a note from CrowdStike security engineers, the new tech uses Intel Processor Trace (Intel PT), a CPU feature that delivers extensive telemetry useful for the detection and prevention of code reuse exploits. 

Intel PT records code execution on the processor and is typically used for performance diagnosis and analysis but CrowdStrike has found a way to leverage the telemetry to spot previously undetectable signs of malicious activity.

“Intel PT allows the CPU to continuously write information about the currently executing code into a memory buffer, which can be used to reconstruct the exact control flow. The primary usage scenario is to trace an executable while it runs, store the trace on the disk and afterward analyze it to reproduce the exact sequence of instructions that has been executed. The program behavior visibility provided by this feature makes it useful for security exploit detection and investigation as well,” CrowdStrike explained.

[READ: Intel Tackles ROP Attacks With New Technology ]

On machines with Intel Processor Trace enabled and supported, CrowdStrike said its Falcon sensor will enable execution tracing for a selected set of programs. “Whenever the program executes a critical system service (like creating a new process), the sensor will analyze the captured trace to look for suspicious operations.

CrowdStrike said the new approach is already proving valuable and has detected several return-oriented programming-based (ROP) exploit chains.

By capturing the execution trace of an application, CrowdStrike says that security software running in the kernel can now look for code reuse attacks by parsing the captured trace packets together with the executed instructions in the address space of the application.  

“Many CPU features, such as Intel PT, are underutilized and can be efficiently leveraged to detect and prevent exploit.”

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Ryan Naraine is Editor-at-Large at SecurityWeek and host of the popular Security Conversations podcast series. Ryan is a veteran cybersecurity strategist who has built security engagement programs at major global brands, including Intel Corp., Bishop Fox and Kaspersky GReAT. He is a co-founder of Threatpost and the global SAS conference series. Ryan's past career as a security journalist included bylines at major technology publications including Ziff Davis eWEEK, CBS Interactive's ZDNet, PCMag and PC World. Ryan is a director of the Security Tinkerers non-profit, an advisor to early-stage entrepreneurs, and a regular speaker at security conferences around the world. Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanaraine.