Adopting the Arm Memory Tagging Extension in Android
As part of our continuous commitment to improve the security of the Android ecosystem, we are partnering with Arm to design the memory tagging extension (MTE). Memory safety bugs, common in C and C++, remain one of the largest vulnerabilities in the Android platform and although there have been previous hardening efforts, memory safety bugs comprised more than half of the high priority security bugs in Android 9.
We believe that memory tagging will detect the most common classes of memory safety bugs in the wild, helping vendors identify and fix them, discouraging malicious actors from exploiting them. During the past year, our team has been working to ensure readiness of the Android platform and application software for MTE. We have deployed HWASAN, a software implementation of the memory tagging concept, to test our entire platform and a few select apps. This deployment has uncovered close to 100 memory safety bugs. The majority of these bugs were detected on HWASAN enabled phones in everyday use. MTE will greatly improve upon this in terms of overhead, ease of deployment, and scale. In parallel, we have been working on supporting MTE in the LLVM compiler toolchain and in the Linux kernel. The Android platform support for MTE will be complete by the time of silicon availability.