[PAST EVENT] Colloquium: Hardware-Assisted Isolated Computing Environments

March 11, 2014
8am - 9am
McGlothlin-Street Hall, Room 020
251 Jamestown Rd
Williamsburg, VA 23185Map this location
Kun Sun, George Mason University


Protecting commodity systems with commercial Operating Systems without significantly degrading performance or usability still remains an open problem. Recent research has shown the need for trustworthy isolated computing environments where the user can segregate different activities to lower risk of cross-contamination after an infection and introspect the state of untrusted computing environments. In this talk, we first introduce a novel BIOS-assisted mechanism to enable secure instantiation and management of isolated computing environments, tailored to separate security-sensitive activities from untrusted ones on x86 architecture. A key characteristic of our system is usability: the capability to quickly and securely switch between operating environments in a single physical machine without requiring any specialized hardware or OS and application code modifications. Even if the untrusted OS becomes compromised, there is no potential for exfiltration or inference attack against data in the trusted OS. The switching time in our prototype is approximately six seconds. Second, we introduce a hardware-assisted dependability framework that leverages System Management Mode (SMM) to inspect the state of a system. Contrary to Virtual Machine Introspection (VMI), our trusted code base is limited to BIOS and the SMM implementations. It is capable of transparently and quickly examining all layers of running system code including a hypervisor, the OS, and user level applications. We demonstrate several use cases including heap spray, heap overflow, and rootkit detection using real-world attacks on Windows and Linux platforms. Our system is 100 times faster than similar VMI systems.


Dr. Kun Sun is a Research Scientist in Center for Secure Information Systems (CSIS) at George Mason University. He received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from North Carolina State University in 2006.

Dr. Sun was a Research Scientist in Intelligent Automation Inc. between 2006 and 2010. This industrial experience makes him realize that his true interests were in academia. In 2010, Dr. Sun joined George Mason University to restart his academic career. Since then, he has published 26 research papers/book chapters and won a number of research grants from DoD. His current research focuses on trustworthy computing environment, moving target defense, smart phone security, cloud security, and wireless security.