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Sanctum: Minimal Hardware Extensions for Strong Software Isolation
Victor Costan, Ilia Lebedev, and Srinivas Devadas, MIT CSAIL
Sanctum offers the same promise as Intel’s Software Guard Extensions (SGX), namely strong provable isolation of software modules running concurrently and sharing resources, but protects against an important class of additional software attacks that infer private information from a program’s memory access patterns. Sanctum shuns unnecessary complexity, leading to a simpler security analysis. We follow a principled approach to eliminating entire attack surfaces through isolation, rather than plugging attack-specific privacy leaks. Most of Sanctum’s logic is implemented in trusted software, which does not perform cryptographic operations using keys, and is easier to analyze than SGX’s opaque microcode, which does.
Our prototype targets a Rocket RISC-V core, an open implementation that allows any researcher to reason about its security properties. Sanctum’s extensions can be adapted to other processor cores, because we do not change any major CPU building block. Instead, we add hardware at the interfaces between generic building blocks, without impacting cycle time.
Sanctum demonstrates that strong software isolation is achievable with a surprisingly small set of minimally invasive hardware changes, and a very reasonable overhead.
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