SgxPectre attack allows to reveal the content of the SGX enclave

A group of researchers from the Ohio State University has discovered a new variation of the Spectre attack named SgxPectre that allows to reveal the content of the SGX enclave.

A group of researchers from the Ohio State University has discovered a new variation of the Spectre attack named SgxPectre.

Intel Software Guard eXtensions (SGX) is a technology for application developers that allows protecting select code and data from disclosure or modification. The Intel SGX allows application code executing within an Intel SGX enclave, which are protected areas of execution in memory.

We have a long debated both Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities in Intel processors and the way to exploit them.

The Meltdown attack could allow attackers to read the entire physical memory of the target machines stealing credentials, personal information, and more.

The Meltdown exploits the speculative execution to breach the isolation between user applications and the operating system, in this way any application can access all system memory.

The Spectre attack allows user-mode applications to extract information from other processes running on the same system. It can also be exploited to extract information from its own process via code, for example, a malicious JavaScript can be used to extract login cookies for other sites from the browser’s memory.

The Spectre attack breaks the isolation between different applications, allowing to leak information from the kernel to user programs, as well as from virtualization hypervisors to guest systems.

While the exploitation of Meltdown or  Spectre doesn’t allow attackers to extract data from SGX enclaves, the SgxPectre attack exploits the bugs in Intel CPU to reveal the content of the SGX enclave.

SGXPECTRE Attacks that exploit the recently disclosed CPU bugs to subvert the confidentiality of SGX enclaves. Particularly, we show that when branch prediction of the enclave code can be influenced by programs outside the enclave, the control flow of the enclave program can be temporarily altered to execute instructions that lead to observable cache-state changes.” reads the paper published by the researchers. 

“An adversary observing such changes can learn secrets inside the enclave memory or its internal registers, thus completely defeating the confidentiality guarantee offered by SGX.”

According to the experts, almost any enclave program could be vulnerable to the SGXPECTRE attack.

SgxPectre Intel SGX enclave

The attack SgxPectre leverages on specific code patterns in software libraries that allow developers to add SGX support to their application. Desired code patterns are available in most SGX runtimes, including Intel SGX SDK, Rust-SGX, and Graphene-SGX.

Basically, the SgxPectre is a cache side-channel attack against enclave programs.

The researchers explained that their attack is based on the observation of the repetitive code execution patterns that the software development kits introduce in SGX enclaves and the associated variation in the cache size.

“In particular, because vulnerable code patterns exist in most SGX runtime libraries (e.g., Intel SGX SDK, Rust-SGX, Graphene-SGX) and are difficult to be eliminated, the adversary could perform SGXPECTRE Attacks against any enclave programs.” continues the paper.

“We demonstrate end-to-end attacks to show that the adversary could learn the content of the enclave memory, as well as its register values in such attacks”

Intel plans to address SgxPectre with a security update for the Intel SGX SDK that will be released on March 16.

Developers will need to update their application by using the new SDK version.

The experts released a video PoC of the attack while the PoC code was published on GitHub.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – SgxPectre, Intel SGX enclave)


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