Secure In-VM Monitoring Using Hardware Virtualization

Monirul Sharif, Wenke Lee, Weidong Cui, and Andrea Lanzi


Kernel-level attacks or rootkits can compromise the security of an operating system by executing with the privilege of the kernel. Current approaches use virtualization to gain higher privilege over these attacks, and isolate security tools from the untrusted guest VM by moving them out and placing them in a separate trusted VM. Although out-of-VM isolation can help ensure security, the added overhead of world-switches between the guest VMs for each invocation of the monitor makes this approach unsuitable for many applications, especially fine-grained monitoring. In this paper, we present Secure In-VM Monitoring (SIM), a general-purpose framework that enables security monitoring applications to be placed back in the untrusted guest VM for efficiency without sacrificing the security guarantees provided by running them outside of the VM. We utilize contemporary hardware memory protection and hardware virtualization features available in recent processors to create a hypervisor protected address space where a monitor can execute and access data in native speeds and to which execution is transferred in a controlled manner that does not require hypervisor involvement. We have developed a prototype into KVM utilizing Intel VT hardware virtualization technology. We have also developed two representative applications for theWindows OS that monitor system calls and process creations. Our microbenchmarks show at least 10 times performance improvement in invocation of a monitor inside SIM over a monitor residing in another trusted VM. With a systematic security analysis of SIM against a number of possible threats, we show that SIM provides at least the same security guarantees as what can be achieved by out-of-VM monitors.


Publication typeInproceedings
Published inProceedings of the 16th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS)
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