Dataflow tracking with Dynamic Taint Analysis (DTA) is an important method in
systems security with many applications, including exploit analysis, guided
fuzzing, and side-channel information leak detection. However, DTA is
fundamentally limited by the Boolean nature of taint labels, which provide no
information about the significance of detected dataflows and lead to false
positives/negatives on complex real world programs.

We introduce proximal gradient analysis (PGA), a novel, theoretically
grounded approach that can track more accurate and fine-grained dataflow
information. PGA uses proximal gradients, a generalization of gradients for
non-differentiable functions, to precisely compose gradients over
non-differentiable operations in programs. Composing gradients over programs
eliminates many of the dataflow propagation errors that occur in DTA and
provides richer information about how each measured dataflow effects a program.

We compare our prototype PGA implementation to three state of the art DTA
implementations on 7 real-world programs. Our results show that PGA can improve
the F1 accuracy of data flow tracking by up to 33% over taint tracking (20% on
average) without introducing any significant overhead (<5% on average). We
further demonstrate the effectiveness of PGA by discovering 22 bugs (20
confirmed by developers) and 2 side-channel leaks, and identifying exploitable
dataflows in 19 existing CVEs in the tested programs.

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