Trex: Learning Execution Semantics from Micro-Traces for Binary Similarity

Detecting semantically similar functions -- a crucial analysis capability with broad real-world security usages including vulnerability detection, malware lineage, and forensics -- requires understanding function behaviors and intentions. This task is challenging as semantically similar functions can be implemented differently, run on different architectures, and compiled with diverse compiler optimizations or obfuscations. Most existing approaches match functions based on syntactic features without understanding the functions' execution semantics. We present Trex, a transfer-learning-based framework, to automate learning execution semantics explicitly from functions' micro-traces and transfer the learned knowledge to match semantically similar functions. Our key insight is that these traces can be used to teach an ML model the execution semantics of different sequences of instructions. We thus train the model to learn execution semantics from the functions' micro-traces, without any manual labeling effort. We then develop a novel neural architecture to learn execution semantics from micro-traces, and we finetune the pretrained model to match semantically similar functions. We evaluate Trex on 1,472,066 function binaries from 13 popular software projects. These functions are from different architectures and compiled with various optimizations and obfuscations. Trex outperforms the state-of-the-art systems by 7.8%, 7.2%, and 14.3% in cross-architecture, optimization, and obfuscation function matching, respectively. Ablation studies show that the pretraining significantly boosts the function matching performance, underscoring the importance of learning execution semantics.

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