Graphene-SGX: A Practical Library OS for Unmodified Applications on SGX


Chia-Che Tsai, Stony Brook University; Donald E. Porter, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Fortanix; Mona Vij, Intel Corporation


Intel SGX hardware enables applications to protect themselves from potentially-malicious OSes or hypervisors. In cloud computing and other systems, many users and applications could benefit from SGX. Unfortunately, current applications will not work out-of-the-box on SGX. Although previous work has shown that a library OS can execute unmodified applications on SGX, a belief has developed that a library OS will be ruinous for performance and TCB size, making application code modification an implicit prerequisite to adopting SGX.

This paper demonstrates that these concerns are exaggerated, and that a fully-featured library OS can rapidly deploy unmodified applications on SGX with overheads comparable to applications modified to use “shim” layers. We present a port of Graphene to SGX, as well as a number of improvements to make the security benefits of SGX more usable, such as integrity support for dynamically-loaded libraries, and secure multi-process support. Graphene-SGX supports a wide range of unmodified applications, including Apache, GCC, and the R interpreter. The performance overheads of Graphene- SGX range from matching a Linux process to less than 2× in most single-process cases; these overheads are largely attributable to current SGX hardware or missed opportunities to optimize Graphene internals, and are not necessarily fundamental to leaving the application unmodified. Graphene-SGX is open-source and has been used concurrently by other groups for SGX research.

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@inproceedings {203255,
author = {Chia-che Tsai and Donald E. Porter and Mona Vij},
title = {{Graphene-SGX}: A Practical Library {OS} for Unmodified Applications on {SGX}},
booktitle = {2017 USENIX Annual Technical Conference (USENIX ATC 17)},
year = {2017},
isbn = {978-1-931971-38-6},
address = {Santa Clara, CA},
pages = {645--658},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = jul

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