Peter Bailis: 2017 Security Workshop


Monday, April 10, 2017
Location: McCaw Hall, Arrillaga Alumni Center

"ACIDRain: Concurrency-Related Attacks on Database-Backed Web Applications"



In theory, database transactions protect application data from corruption and integrity violations. In practice, database transactions frequently execute under weak isolation that exposes programs to a range of concurrency anomalies, and programmers may fail to correctly employ transactions. While low transaction volumes mask many potential concurrency-related errors under normal operation, determined adversaries can exploit them programmatically for fun and profit. In this work, we formalize a new kind of attack on database-backed applications called an ACIDRain attack, in which an adversary systematically exploits concurrency-related vulnerabilities via programmatically accessible APIs. These attacks are not 5 theoretical: ACIDRain attacks have already occurred in a handful of applications in the wild, including one attack which bankrupted a popular Bitcoin exchange. We introduce a language-agnostic method for detecting potential attacks, called Abstract Anomaly Detection (2AD), that uses dynamic traces of database accesses to efficiently reason about the space of possible concurrent interleavings. We have applied a prototype 2AD analysis tool to 12 popular self-hosted eCommerce applications written in four languages and with a total deploy base of over 2M websites. We identified and verified 22 critical ACIDRain attacks that allow attackers to corrupt store inventory, over-spend gift cards, and steal inventory.

Joint work with Todd Warszawski.


Peter Bailis is an assistant professor of Computer Science at Stanford University. Peter's research in the Future Data Systems group ( focuses on the design and implementation of next-generation, post-database data-intensive systems. His work spans large-scale data management, distributed protocol design, and architectures for high-volume complex decision support. He is the recipient of an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, a Berkeley Fellowship for Graduate Study, best-of-conference citations for research appearing in both SIGMOD and VLDB, and the CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award. He received a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in 2015 and an A.B. from Harvard College in 2011, both in Computer Science.