Pointer Authentication

Introduction

Pointer Authentication is a mechanism by which certain pointers are signed. When a pointer gets signed, a cryptographic hash of its value and other values (pepper and salt) is stored in unused bits of that pointer.

Before the pointer is used, it needs to be authenticated, i.e., have its signature checked. This prevents pointer values of unknown origin from being used to replace the signed pointer value.

At the IR level, it is represented using a set of intrinsics (to sign/authenticate pointers).

The current implementation leverages the Armv8.3-A PAuth/Pointer Authentication Code instructions in the AArch64 backend. This support is used to implement the Darwin arm64e ABI, as well as the PAuth ABI Extension to ELF.

LLVM IR Representation

Intrinsics

These intrinsics are provided by LLVM to expose pointer authentication operations.

llvm.ptrauth.sign

Syntax:
declare i64 @llvm.ptrauth.sign(i64 <value>, i32 <key>, i64 <discriminator>)
Overview:

The ‘llvm.ptrauth.sign’ intrinsic signs a raw pointer.

Arguments:

The value argument is the raw pointer value to be signed. The key argument is the identifier of the key to be used to generate the signed value. The discriminator argument is the additional diversity data to be used as a discriminator (an integer, an address, or a blend of the two).

Semantics:

The ‘llvm.ptrauth.sign’ intrinsic implements the sign_ operation. It returns a signed value.

If value is already a signed value, the behavior is undefined.

If value is not a pointer value for which key is appropriate, the behavior is undefined.

llvm.ptrauth.auth

Syntax:
declare i64 @llvm.ptrauth.auth(i64 <value>, i32 <key>, i64 <discriminator>)
Overview:

The ‘llvm.ptrauth.auth’ intrinsic authenticates a signed pointer.

Arguments:

The value argument is the signed pointer value to be authenticated. The key argument is the identifier of the key that was used to generate the signed value. The discriminator argument is the additional diversity data to be used as a discriminator.

Semantics:

The ‘llvm.ptrauth.auth’ intrinsic implements the auth_ operation. It returns a raw pointer value. If value does not have a correct signature for key and discriminator, the intrinsic traps in a target-specific way.

llvm.ptrauth.strip

Syntax:
declare i64 @llvm.ptrauth.strip(i64 <value>, i32 <key>)
Overview:

The ‘llvm.ptrauth.strip’ intrinsic strips the embedded signature out of a possibly-signed pointer.

Arguments:

The value argument is the signed pointer value to be stripped. The key argument is the identifier of the key that was used to generate the signed value.

Semantics:

The ‘llvm.ptrauth.strip’ intrinsic implements the strip_ operation. It returns a raw pointer value. It does not check that the signature is valid.

key should identify a key that is appropriate for value, as defined by the target-specific keys).

If value is a raw pointer value, it is returned as-is (provided the key is appropriate for the pointer).

If value is not a pointer value for which key is appropriate, the behavior is target-specific.

If value is a signed pointer value, but key does not identify the same key that was used to generate value, the behavior is target-specific.

llvm.ptrauth.resign

Syntax:
declare i64 @llvm.ptrauth.resign(i64 <value>,
                                 i32 <old key>, i64 <old discriminator>,
                                 i32 <new key>, i64 <new discriminator>)
Overview:

The ‘llvm.ptrauth.resign’ intrinsic re-signs a signed pointer using a different key and diversity data.

Arguments:

The value argument is the signed pointer value to be authenticated. The old key argument is the identifier of the key that was used to generate the signed value. The old discriminator argument is the additional diversity data to be used as a discriminator in the auth operation. The new key argument is the identifier of the key to use to generate the resigned value. The new discriminator argument is the additional diversity data to be used as a discriminator in the sign operation.

Semantics:

The ‘llvm.ptrauth.resign’ intrinsic performs a combined auth_ and sign_ operation, without exposing the intermediate raw pointer. It returns a signed pointer value. If value does not have a correct signature for old key and old discriminator, the intrinsic traps in a target-specific way.

llvm.ptrauth.sign_generic

Syntax:
declare i64 @llvm.ptrauth.sign_generic(i64 <value>, i64 <discriminator>)
Overview:

The ‘llvm.ptrauth.sign_generic’ intrinsic computes a generic signature of arbitrary data.

Arguments:

The value argument is the arbitrary data value to be signed. The discriminator argument is the additional diversity data to be used as a discriminator.

Semantics:

The ‘llvm.ptrauth.sign_generic’ intrinsic computes the signature of a given combination of value and additional diversity data.

It returns a full signature value (as opposed to a signed pointer value, with an embedded partial signature).

As opposed to llvm.ptrauth.sign, it does not interpret value as a pointer value. Instead, it is an arbitrary data value.

llvm.ptrauth.blend

Syntax:
declare i64 @llvm.ptrauth.blend(i64 <address discriminator>, i64 <integer discriminator>)
Overview:

The ‘llvm.ptrauth.blend’ intrinsic blends a pointer address discriminator with a small integer discriminator to produce a new “blended” discriminator.

Arguments:

The address discriminator argument is a pointer value. The integer discriminator argument is a small integer, as specified by the target.

Semantics:

The ‘llvm.ptrauth.blend’ intrinsic combines a small integer discriminator with a pointer address discriminator, in a way that is specified by the target implementation.

AArch64 Support

AArch64 is currently the only architecture with full support of the pointer authentication primitives, based on Armv8.3-A instructions.

Armv8.3-A PAuth Pointer Authentication Code

The Armv8.3-A architecture extension defines the PAuth feature, which provides support for instructions that manipulate Pointer Authentication Codes (PAC).

Keys

5 keys are supported by the PAuth feature.

Of those, 4 keys are interchangeably usable to specify the key used in IR constructs:

  • ASIA/ASIB are instruction keys (encoded as respectively 0 and 1).
  • ASDA/ASDB are data keys (encoded as respectively 2 and 3).

ASGA is a special key that cannot be explicitly specified, and is only ever used implicitly, to implement the llvm.ptrauth.sign_generic intrinsic.

Instructions

The IR Intrinsics described above map onto these instructions as such:

  • llvm.ptrauth.sign: PAC{I,D}{A,B}{Z,SP,}
  • llvm.ptrauth.auth: AUT{I,D}{A,B}{Z,SP,}
  • llvm.ptrauth.strip: XPAC{I,D}
  • llvm.ptrauth.blend: The semantics of the blend operation are specified by the ABI. In both the ELF PAuth ABI Extension and arm64e, it’s a MOVK into the high 16 bits. Consequently, this limits the width of the integer discriminator used in blends to 16 bits.
  • llvm.ptrauth.sign_generic: PACGA
  • llvm.ptrauth.resign: AUT*+PAC*. These are represented as a single pseudo-instruction in the backend to guarantee that the intermediate raw pointer value is not spilled and attackable.