Demystifying Soft-Error Mitigation by Control-Flow Checking - A New Perspective on its Effectiveness

Schuster S, Ulbrich P, Stilkerich I, Dietrich C, Schröder-Preikschat W (2017)

Publication Language: English

Publication Type: Journal article, Original article

Publication year: 2017


Publisher: ACM

Edited Volumes: Issue 5s

Series: ACM Transactions on Embedded Computing Systems (TECS)

City/Town: New York, NY, USA

Book Volume: 16

Pages Range: 180:1-180:19

Article Number: 180

Journal Issue: 5s


DOI: 10.1145/3126503


Soft errors are a challenging and urging problem in the domain of safety-critical embedded systems. For decades, checking schemes have been investigated and improved to mitigate soft-error effects for the class of control-flow faults, with current industrial standards strongly recommending their use. However, reality looks different: Taking a systems perspective, we implemented four representative Control-Flow Checking (CFC) schemes and put them through their paces in 396 fault-injection campaigns. In contrast to previous work, which typically relied on probability-based vulnerability metrics, we accounted for the influence of memory and time overheads on the fault-space dimensions and applied those in full-scan fault injections. This change in procedure alone severely degraded the perceived effectiveness of CFC. In addition, we expanded the perspective to data-flow faults and their influence on the overall susceptibility, an aspect that so far has been largely ignored. Our results suggest that, without accompanying measures, any improvement regarding control-flow faults is dominated by the increase in data faults caused by the increased attack surface in terms of memory and runtime overhead. Moreover, CFC performance less depended on the detection capabilities than on general aspects of the concrete binary compilation and execution. In conclusion, incorporating CFC is not as straightforward as often assumed and the vulnerability of systems with hardened control-flow may in many cases even be increased by the schemes themselves.

Authors with CRIS profile

Related research project(s)

Involved external institutions

How to cite


Schuster, S., Ulbrich, P., Stilkerich, I., Dietrich, C., & Schröder-Preikschat, W. (2017). Demystifying Soft-Error Mitigation by Control-Flow Checking - A New Perspective on its Effectiveness. ACM Transactions on Embedded Computing Systems, 16(5s), 180:1-180:19.


Schuster, Simon, et al. "Demystifying Soft-Error Mitigation by Control-Flow Checking - A New Perspective on its Effectiveness." ACM Transactions on Embedded Computing Systems 16.5s (2017): 180:1-180:19.

BibTeX: Download