Harnessing the x86 Intermediate Rings for Intra-Process Isolation

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Modern applications often involve the processing of sensitive information. However, the lack of privilege separation within the user space leaves sensitive application secrets such as cryptographic keys just as unprotected as a ”hello world” string. Cutting-edge hardware-supported security features are being introduced. However, the features are often vendor-specific or lack compatibility with older generations of the processors. The situation leaves developers with no portable solution to incorporate protection for the sensitive application component. We propose LOTRx86, a fundamental and portable approach for user-space privilege separation. Our approach creates a more privileged user execution layer called PrivUser by harnessing the underused intermediate privilege levels on the x86 architecture. The PrivUser memory space, a set of pages within process address space that are inaccessible to user mode, is a safe place for application secrets and routines that access them. We implement the LOTRx86 ABI that exports the privcall interface to users to invoke secret handling routines in PrivUser. This way, sensitive application operations that involve the secrets are performed in a strictly controlled manner. The memory access control in our architecture is privilege-based, accessing the protected application secret only requires a change in the privilege, eliminating the need for costly remote procedure calls or change in address space. We evaluated our platform by developing a proof-of-concept LOTRx86-enabled web server that employs our architecture to securely access its private key during an SSL connection. We conducted a set of experiments, including a performance measurement on the PoC on both Intel and AMD PCs, and confirmed that LOTRx86 incurs only a limited performance overhead.
Publisher
IEEE COMPUTER SOC
Issue Date
2023-07
Language
English
Article Type
Article
Citation

IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON DEPENDABLE AND SECURE COMPUTING, v.20, no.4, pp.3251 - 3268

ISSN
1545-5971
DOI
10.1109/TDSC.2022.3192524
URI
http://hdl.handle.net/10203/310922
Appears in Collection
CS-Journal Papers(저널논문)
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