SMACCMPilot Properties and Evidence

One of the goals of the SMACCMPilot project is to build a higher-assurance autopilot and to build languages and tools that make it easier to build other high-assurance systems.

The following sketches some of the requirements for SMACCMPilot and evidence we have that those requirements are met.

Philosophy and Approach

As of March 2017, SMACCMPilot is some 125k LOCs of C code for the eChronos build, and around 130k LOCs for the FreeRTOS build. Because the C code is generated, this code is perhaps twice the length of comparable hand-written code. Nonetheless, SMACCMPilot (or any fully-featured autopilot) will be tens of thousands or more of lines of code.

Our goal is to build an autopilot from scratch quickly: the first release in 2013 represented only about 2 engineer years of development. Consequently, verification approaches that require significant manual labor (e.g., interactive theorem-proving) or that do not scale to large code-bases (e.g., model-checking) are not practical. Furthermore, we are taking a “green-field” approach rather than analyzing existing artifacts for bugs, so we want to do better than the “bug-hunting” approach found in unsound static analysis.

Our goal is increased programmer productivity and increased code assurance compared to typical embedded development projects.

Finally, our focus is to use open-source verification tools for our open-source project: we want the approaches developed here to be available to everyone interested in high-assurance software development.

Software Development Approach

Code Generation

SMACCMPilot is developed using Ivory and Tower, two domain-specific languages developed under the project. These languages improve programmer’s productivity but also ensure correctness properties by construction.

Ivory is designed to be expressive while providing evidence that the generated code does not contain undefined behaviors and memory-safety violations.

In addition, Ivory prevents various constructs that might be well-defined but often make code analysis more difficult, lead to bugs, or both. For example, the following properties hold for Ivory-generated code:

  • No heap allocation. All memory allocation is on the control stack. All memory allocation is of statically-known sizes.
  • User-code loop iterations are bounded by a constant.
  • No machine-dependent integer types.
  • Expressions have no side-effects.
  • No pointer arithmetic.
  • Type casts are limited to information-preserving casts or casts that require a default value if truncation may occur (e.g., casting from a signed to unsigned value).

These rules are reminiscent of and inspired by JPL’s Power of 10 rules.

The Ivory compiler optionally instruments the generated C code with assertions. Current assertions checks are implemented for:

  • integer underflow/overflow
  • division-by-zero
  • floating point infinity/not-a-number results

We compile with -Wall. Note that we in effect compile with -Wall twice: once with our Haskell compiler (since Ivory is an embedded domain-specific language in Haskell), and once with our C compiler.

Additionally, we run the cppcheck lint tool on our generated (and hand-written) C and C++.

Tower lifts the level of abstraction in developing inter-communicating tasks (including device drivers). Tower helps to prevent

  • The incorrect use of RTOS system calls.
  • Synchronization and deadlock bugs.
  • Unintended shared memory or global memory between tasks.


During development and internal deployment, we always execute code with assertions turned on.

We have also implemented a QuickCheck harness for Ivory. We use QuickCheck to test some portions of SMACCMPilot, easily generating hundreds of thousands of calls to C functions with random arguments.

Static Analysis

SMACCMPilot is analyzed by Coverity.

Coverity Scan Build Status

In addition, we have been using the open-source C model-checker CBMC. CBMC is an excellent model-checker for verifying C source code, and we have found bugs in SMACCMPilot using it. However, it no longer scales due to the size of the code-base since it performs whole-program analysis.

Runtime Verification

We have built a runtime verification framework. It automatically instruments C code to capture global state values whenever a variable changes. The framework is built using a combination of GCC plugins and Ivory macros for generating monitoring code based on past-time linear temporal logic assertions. The framework is primarily intended for monitoring (and responding to failures) in untrusted C code.

Trusted and Untrusted Artifacts

SMACCMPilot consists of a large (and growing) number of libraries and application code. Here we briefly itemize the status of major components of the architecture in terms of their assurance and what a vulnerability might mean for the overall system.

  • Radio firmware: The 3DR radio firmware is currently written in C/assembly and should be considered to be not only untrusted but potentially buggy.

  • Ground control station (GCS): The GCS software is written in Elm, a type-safe language that compiles to JavaScript. However it lacks the higher levels of assurance offered by runtime behavioral assertions and more advanced static analysis. See below for more about cryptography and GCS communications.

  • Board support package: SMACCMPilot uses Ivory-implemented drivers for most of the IO, although it still relies on C drivers for PWM output and PPM radio input capture.

  • libc: SMACCMPilot applications link to libc.

  • Build tools: We rely on compilers like GCC, GHC (Haskell compiler), Make and linker scripts, all of which could introduce bugs. (If you are not afraid of compiler bugs, consider how many GCC bugs have been discovered by Csmith).

  • GIDL Communication Schema: SMACCMPilot uses a custom and autogenerated comm schema, where the autopilot responds to message requests initiated by the GCS. The Comm schema also supports strong encryption, as described below.

  • RTOS: see below.

  • crypto libs: see below.

RTOS Assurance

SMACCMPilot can be run on FreeRTOS, a small, open-source, real-time operating system. FreeRTOS is written in C and is well tested and well documented; our experience is that it is highly reliable.

Another option is to compile SMACCMPilot to run on Data61’s eChronos RTOS. eChronos is formally-verified, in much of same spirit as Data61’s L4.verified project.

GCS Security

We have developed an end-to-end encryption system called Galois Embedded Crypto (GEC) for ground control system (GCS) communication. The design is based on a well-defined and studied standard, AES in Galois/Counter mode, and the implementations are built on top of open-source implementations in C and Haskell.

GEC is loosely based on the station-to-station key exchange protocol followed by ongoing communications secured with traditional symmetric-key cryptography.

The encryption/authentication SMACCMPilot firmware executes as a RTOS task, in the same address space as all of the other firmware. Thus, if an attacker gains access to the firmware binaries or discovers a memory safety vulnerability that allows her to read/overwrite arbitrary addresses, she can read/write the private keys.

However, assuming the following should hold of SMACCMPilot:

  • All data sent to the GCS by SMACCMPilot is encrypted.
  • All data received from the GCS is decrypted and authenticated, and if either fails, the message is ignored by the system.
  • Only messages that SMACCMPilot is configured to process and that are well-formed can affect SMACCMPilot’s behavior.
  • Furthermore, a commlink message can only affect the portion of SMACCMPilot’s behavior it is defined for.

Miscellaneous Vulnerabilities

  • We do not address sensor spoofing attacks (and GPS spoofing in particular). However, the SMACCMPilot is by default configured to fly without GPS, so unless GPS is used for navigation, a GPS spoofing attack doesn’t compromise the ability to fly.
  • We do not address radio-link bandwidth saturation.
  • We do not address hardware/sensor vulnerabilities or faults.
  • We do not validate user input to ensure a pilot’s behavior is safe. If you try to fly the UAV into a tree, it will fly into a tree.

Functional Correctness

We have not addressed functional correctness of SMACCMPilot, except for small portions of the system, such as validating user inputs from the radio controller. Moreover, we have not developed a specification of autopilot correctness; doing so would be a research project itself.

Future Work

The following are project goals related to increasing the assurance of SMACCMPilot:

  • Software-in-the-loop testing, particularly using Clang-compiled code and LLVM analysis tools.
  • Domain-specific model-checking.
  • Additional QuickCheck testing.
  • Worst-case execution time analysis.
  • Stack usage analysis.
  • Control-flow analysis (to discover recursion).
  • Continue reducing the dependence on hand-written C/C++ code.
  • Controller/hybrid-system verification.