ECMO: Peripheral Transplantation to Rehost Embedded Linux Kernels

Muhui Jiang, Lin Ma, Yajin Zhou, Qiang Liu, Cen Zhang, Zhi Wang, Xiapu Luo, Lei Wu, Kui Ren

Research output: Chapter in book / Conference proceedingConference article published in proceeding or bookAcademic researchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Dynamic analysis based on the full-system emulator QEMU is widely used for various purposes.However, it is challenging to run firmware images of embedded devices in QEMU, especially the process to boot the Linux kernel (we call this process rehosting the Linux kernel in this paper). That's because embedded devices usually use different system-on-chips (SoCs) from multiple vendors and only a limited number of SoCs are currently supported in QEMU.

In this work, we propose a technique called peripheral transplantation. The main idea is to transplant the device drivers of designated peripherals into the Linux kernel binary. By doing so, it can replace the peripherals in the kernel that are currently unsupported in QEMU with supported ones, thus making the Linux kernel rehostable. After that, various applications can be built.

We implemented this technique inside a prototype system called ECMO and applied it to 815 firmware images, which consist of 20 kernel versions and 37 device models. The result shows that ECMO can successfully transplant peripherals for all the 815 Linux kernels. Among them, 710 kernels can be successfully rehosted, i.e., launching a user-space shell (87.1% success rate). The failed cases are mainly because the root file system format (ramfs) is not supported by the kernel. Meanwhile, we are able to inject rather complex drivers (i.e., NIC driver) for all the rehosted Linux kernels by installing kernel modules. We further build three applications, i.e., kernel crash analysis, rootkit forensic analysis, and kernel fuzzing, based on the rehosted kernels to demonstrate the usage scenarios of ECMO.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCCS 2021 - Proceedings of the 2021 ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781450384544
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2021

Publication series

NameProceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security
ISSN (Print)1543-7221


  • Linux kernel
  • peripheral transplantation
  • rehosting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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