Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC) 2020

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Faulty Point Unit: ABI Poisoning Attacks on Intel SGX

This paper analyzes a previously overlooked attack surface that allows unprivileged adversaries to impact supposedly secure floating-point computations in Intel SGX enclaves through the Application Binary Interface (ABI). In a comprehensive study across 7 widely used industry-standard and research enclave shielding runtimes, we show that control and state registers of the x87 Floating-Point Unit(FPU) and Intel Streaming SIMD Extensions (SSE) are not always properly sanitized on enclave entry. First, we abuse the adversary's control over precision and rounding modes as a novel "ABI-level fault injection" primitive to silently corrupt enclaved floating-point operations, enabling a new class of stealthy, integrity-only attacks that disturb the result of SGX enclave computations. Our analysis reveals that this threat is especially relevant for applications that use the older x87 FPU, which is still being used under certain conditions for high-precision operations by modern compilers like gcc. We exemplify the potential impact of ABI-level quality-degradation attacks in a case study of an enclaved machine learning service and in a larger analysis on the SPEC benchmark programs. Second, we explore the impact on enclave confidentiality by showing that the adversary's control over floating-point exception masks can be abused as an innovative controlled channel to detect FPU usage and to recover enclaved multiplication operands in certain scenarios. Our findings, affecting 5 out of the 7 studied runtimes, demonstrate the fallacy and challenges of implementing high-assurance trusted execution environments on contemporary x86 hardware. We responsibly disclosed our findings to the vendors, leading to patches in the Intel SGX-SDK and the Rust compiler's SGX target.

Fritz Alder
imec-DistriNet, KU Leuven

Jo Van Bulck
imec-DistriNet, KU Leuven

David Oswald
The University of Birmingham, UK

Frank Piessens
imec-DistriNet, KU Leuven

Paper (ACM DL)




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