libmpk: Software Abstraction for Intel Memory Protection Keys (Intel MPK)


Soyeon Park, Georgia Institute of Technology; Sangho Lee, Microsoft Research; Wen Xu, Georgia Institute of Technology; Hyungon Moon, Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology; Taesoo Kim, Georgia Institute of Technology


Intel Memory Protection Keys (MPK) is a new hardware primitive to support thread-local permission control on groups of pages without requiring modification of page tables. Unfortunately, its current hardware implementation and software support suffer from security, scalability, and semantic problems: (1) vulnerable to protection-key-use-after-free; (2) providing the limited number of protection keys; and (3) incompatible with mprotect()’s process-based permission model.

In this paper, we propose libmpk, a software abstraction for MPK. It virtualizes the hardware protection keys to eliminate the protection-key-use-after-free problem while providing accesses to an unlimited number of virtualized keys. To support legacy applications, it also provides a lazy inter-thread key synchronization. To enhance the security of MPK itself, libmpk restricts unauthorized writes to its metadata. We apply libmpk to three real-world applications: OpenSSL, JavaScript JIT compiler, and Memcached for memory protection and isolation. Our evaluation shows that it introduces negligible performance overhead (<1%) compared with the original, unprotected versions and improves performance by 8.1× compared with the secure equivalents using mprotect(). The source code of libmpk is publicly available and maintained as an open source project.

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@inproceedings {234966,
author = {Soyeon Park and Sangho Lee and Wen Xu and HyunGon Moon and Taesoo Kim},
title = {libmpk: Software Abstraction for Intel Memory Protection Keys (Intel {MPK})},
booktitle = {2019 USENIX Annual Technical Conference (USENIX ATC 19)},
year = {2019},
isbn = {978-1-939133-03-8},
address = {Renton, WA},
pages = {241--254},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = jul,

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