libmpk: Software Abstraction for Intel Memory Protection Keys

Soyeon Park, Sangho Lee, Wen Xu, Hyungon Moon, Taesoo Kim

Intel memory protection keys (MPK) is a new hardware feature to support thread-local permission control on groups of pages without requiring modification of page tables. Unfortunately, its current hardware implementation and software supports suffer from security, scalability, and semantic-gap problems: (1) MPK is vulnerable to protection-key-use-after-free and protection-key corruption; (2) MPK does not scale due to hardware limitations; and (3) MPK is not perfectly compatible with mprotect() because it does not support permission synchronization across threads. In this paper, we propose libmpk, a software abstraction for MPK. libmpk virtualizes protection keys to eliminate the protection-key-use-after-free and protection-key corruption problems while supporting a tremendous number of memory page groups. libmpk also prevents unauthorized writes to its metadata and supports inter-thread key synchronization. We apply libmpk to three real-world applications: OpenSSL, JavaScript JIT compiler, and Memcached for memory protection and isolation. An evaluation shows that libmpk introduces negligible performance overhead (<1%) compared with insecure versions, and improves their performance by 8.1x over secure equivalents using mprotect(). The source code of libmpk will be publicly available and maintained as an open source project.

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