Rethinking Isolation Mechanisms for Datacenter Multitenancy

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Varun Gandhi and James Mickens, Harvard University


In theory, trusted execution environments like SGX are promising approaches for isolating datacenter tenants. In practice, the associated hardware primitives suffer from three major problems: side channels induced by microarchitectural co-tenancy; weak guarantees for post-load software integrity; and opaque hardware implementations which prevent third-party security auditing. We explain why these limitations are so problematic for datacenters, and then propose a new approach for trusted execution. This approach, called IME (Isolated Monitor Execution) provides SGX-style memory encryption, but strictly prevents microarchitectural co-tenancy of secure and insecure code. IME also uses a separate, microarchitecturally-isolated pipeline to run dynamic security checks on monitored code, enabling post-load monitoring for security invariants like CFI or type safety. Finally, an IME processor exports a machine-readable description of its microarchitectural implementation, allowing tenants to reason about the security properties of a particular IME instance.

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@inproceedings {254140,
author = {Varun Gandhi and James Mickens},
title = {Rethinking Isolation Mechanisms for Datacenter Multitenancy},
booktitle = {12th USENIX Workshop on Hot Topics in Cloud Computing (HotCloud 20)},
year = {2020},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = jul

Presentation Video