Boosting SMT Solver Performance on Mixed-Bitwise-Arithmetic Expressions


Xu D, Liu B, Feng W, Ming J, Zheng Q, Li J, Yu Q. Boosting SMT Solver Performance on Mixed-Bitwise-Arithmetic Expressions, in Proceedings of the 42nd ACM SIGPLAN International Conference on Programming Language Design and Implementation. New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery ; 2021 :651–664.


Satisfiability Modulo Theories (SMT) solvers have been widely applied in automated software analysis to reason about the queries that encode the essence of program semantics, relieving the heavy burden of manual analysis. Many SMT solving techniques rely on solving Boolean satisfiability problem (SAT), which is an NP-complete problem, so they use heuristic search strategies to seek possible solutions, especially when no known theorem can efficiently reduce the problem. An emerging challenge, named Mixed-Bitwise-Arithmetic (MBA) obfuscation, impedes SMT solving by constructing identity equations with both bitwise operations (and, or, negate) and arithmetic computation (add, minus, multiply). Common math theorems for bitwise or arithmetic computation are inapplicable to simplifying MBA equations, leading to performance bottlenecks in SMT solving. In this paper, we first scrutinize solvers' performance on solving different categories of MBA expressions: linear, polynomial, and non-polynomial. We observe that solvers can handle simple linear MBA expressions, but facing a severe performance slowdown when solving complex linear and non-linear MBA expressions. The root cause is that complex MBA expressions break the reduction laws for pure arithmetic or bitwise computation. To boost solvers' performance, we propose a semantic-preserving transformation to reduce the mixing degree of bitwise and arithmetic operations. We first calculate a signature vector based on the truth table extracted from an MBA expression, which captures the complete MBA semantics. Next, we generate a simpler MBA expression from the signature vector. Our large-scale evaluation on 3000 complex MBA equations shows that our technique significantly boost modern SMT solvers' performance on solving MBA formulas.