Hacking in Darkness: Return-oriented Programming against Secure Enclaves


Intel Software Guard Extensions (SGX) is a hardware-based Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) that is widely seen as a promising solution to traditional security threats. While SGX promises strong protection to bug-free software, decades of experience show that we have to expect vulnerabilities in any non-trivial application. In a traditional environment, such vulnerabilities often allow attackers to take complete control of vulnerable systems. Efforts to evaluate the security of SGX have focused on side-channels. So far, neither a practical attack against a vulnerability in enclave code nor a proof-of-concept attack scenario has been demonstrated. Thus, a fundamental question remains: What are the consequences and dangers of having a memory corruption vulnerability in enclave code?

To answer this question, we comprehensively analyze exploitation techniques against vulnerabilities inside enclaves. We demonstrate a practical exploitation technique, called Dark-ROP, which can completely disarm the security guarantees of SGX. Dark-ROP exploits a memory corruption vulnerability in the enclave software through return-oriented programming (ROP). However Dark-ROP differs significantly from traditional ROP attacks because the target code runs under solid hardware protection. We overcome the problem of exploiting SGX-specific properties and obstacles by formulating a novel ROP attack scheme against SGX under practical assumptions. Specifically, we build several oracles that inform the attacker about the status of enclave execution. This enables him to launch the ROP attack while both code and data are hidden. In addition, we exfiltrate the enclave’s code and data into a shadow application to fully control the execution environment. This shadow application emulates the enclave under the complete control of the attacker, using the enclave (through ROP calls) only to perform SGX operations such as reading the enclave’s SGX crypto keys.

The consequences of Dark-ROP are alarming; the attacker can completely breach the enclave’s memory protections and trick the SGX hardware into disclosing the enclave’s encryption keys and producing measurement reports that defeat remote attestation. This result strongly suggests that SGX research should focus more on traditional security mitigations rather than on making enclave development more convenient by expanding the trusted computing base and the attack surface (e.g., Graphene, Haven).

Proceedings of the 26th USENIX Security Symposium (Security)