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.

Open Access Media

USENIX is committed to Open Access to the research presented at our events. Papers and proceedings are freely available to everyone once the event begins. Any video, audio, and/or slides that are posted after the event are also free and open to everyone. Support USENIX and our commitment to Open Access.

Presentation Audio

@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},