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Cuong Pham, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Zachary J. Estrada, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Phuong Cao, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Zbigniew Kalbarczyk, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ravishankar K. Iyer, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  2014.  Building Reliable and Secure Virtual Machines using Architectural Invariants. IEEE Security and Privacy. 12(5):82-85.

Reliability and security tend to be treated separately because they appear orthogonal: reliability focuses on accidental failures, security on intentional attacks. Because of the apparent dissimilarity between the two, tools to detect and recover from different classes of failures and attacks are usually designed and implemented differently. So, integrating support for reliability and security in a single framework is a significant challenge.

Here, we discuss how to address this challenge in the context of cloud computing, for which reliability and security are growing concerns. Because cloud deployments usually consist of commodity hardware and software, efficient monitoring is key to achieving resiliency. Although reliability and security monitoring might use different types of analytics, the same sensing infrastructure can provide inputs to monitoring modules.

We split monitoring into two phases: logging and auditing. Logging captures data or events; it constitutes the framework’s core and is common to all monitors. Auditing analyzes data or events; it’s implemented and operated independently by each monitor. To support a range of auditing policies, logging must capture a complete view, including both actions and states of target systems. It must also provide useful, trustworthy information regarding the captured view.

We applied these principles when designing HyperTap, a hypervisor-level monitoring framework for virtual machines (VMs). Unlike most VM-monitoring techniques, HyperTap employs hardware architectural invariants (hardware invariants, for short) to establish the root of trust for logging. Hardware invariants are properties defined and enforced by a hardware platform (for example, the x86 instruction set architecture). Additionally, HyperTap supports continuous, event-driven VM monitoring, which enables both capturing the system state and responding rapidly to actions of interest.

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Zachary J. Estrada, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Cuong Pham, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Fei Deng, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Zbigniew Kalbarczyk, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ravishankar K. Iyer, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Lok Yan, Air Force Research Laboratory.  2015.  Dynamic VM Dependability Monitoring Using Hypervisor Probes. 11th European Dependable Computing Conference- Dependability in Practice (EDCC 2015).

Many current VM monitoring approaches require guest OS modifications and are also unable to perform application level monitoring, reducing their value in a cloud setting. This paper introduces hprobes, a framework that allows one to dynamically monitor applications and operating systems inside a VM. The hprobe framework does not require any changes to the guest OS, which avoids the tight coupling of monitoring with its target. Furthermore, the monitors can be customized and enabled/disabled while the VM is running. To demonstrate the usefulness of this framework, we present three sample detectors: an emergency detector for a security vulnerability, an application watchdog, and an infinite-loop detector. We test our detectors on real applications and demonstrate that those detectors achieve an acceptable level of performance overhead with a high degree of flexibility.

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Gary Wang, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Zachary J. Estrada, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Cuong Pham, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Zbigniew Kalbarczyk, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ravishankar K. Iyer, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  2014.  Hypervisor Introspection: Exploiting Timing Side-Channels against VM Monitoring. 44th International Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks.

Hypervisor activity is designed to be hidden from guest Virtual Machines (VM) as well as external observers. In this paper, we demonstrate that this does not always occur. We present a method by which an external observer can learn sensitive information about hypervisor internals, such as VM scheduling or hypervisor-level monitoring schemes, by observing a VM. We refer to this capability as Hypervisor Introspection (HI).

HI can be viewed as the inverse process of the well-known Virtual Machine Introspection (VMI) technique. VMI is a technique to extract VMs’ internal state from the hypervi- sor, facilitating the implementation of reliability and security monitors[1]. Conversely, HI is a technique that allows VMs to autonomously extract hypervisor information. This capability enables a wide range of attacks, for example, learning a hypervisor’s properties (version, configuration, etc.), defeating hypervisor-level monitoring systems, and compromising the confidentiality of co-resident VMs. This paper focuses on the discovery of a channel to implement HI, and then leveraging that channel for a novel attack against traditional VMI.

In order to perform HI, there must be a method of extracting information from the hypervisor. Since this information is intentionally hidden from a VM, we make use of a side channel. When the hypervisor checks a VM using VMI, VM execution (e.g. network communication between a VM and a remote system) must pause. Therefore, information regarding the hypervisor’s activity can be leaked through this suspension of execution. We call this side channel the VM suspend side channel, illustrated in Fig. 1. As a proof of concept, this paper presents how correlating the results of in-VM micro- benchmarking and out-of-VM reference monitoring can be used to determine when hypervisor-level monitoring tools are vulnerable to attacks.

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Cuong Pham, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Zachary J. Estrada, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Zbigniew Kalbarczyk, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ravishankar K. Iyer, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  2014.  Reliability and Security Monitoring of Virtual Machines using Hardware Architectural Invariants. 44th International Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks.

This paper presents a solution that simultaneously addresses both reliability and security (RnS) in a monitoring framework. We identify the commonalities between reliability and security to guide the design of HyperTap, a hypervisor-level framework that efficiently supports both types of monitoring in virtualization environments. In HyperTap, the logging of system events and states is common across monitors and constitutes the core of the framework. The audit phase of each monitor is implemented and operated independently. In addition, HyperTap relies on hardware invariants to provide a strongly isolated root of trust. HyperTap uses active monitoring, which can be adapted to enforce a wide spectrum of RnS policies. We validate Hy- perTap by introducing three example monitors: Guest OS Hang Detection (GOSHD), Hidden RootKit Detection (HRKD), and Privilege Escalation Detection (PED). Our experiments with fault injection and real rootkits/exploits demonstrate that HyperTap provides robust monitoring with low performance overhead.

Winner of the William C. Carter Award for Best Paper based on PhD work and Best Paper Award voted by conference participants.