Hardware Enforcement of Application Security Policies Using Tagged Memory

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Executive Summary

Computers are notoriously insecure, in part because application security policies do not map well onto traditional protection mechanisms such as Unix user accounts or hardware page tables. This paper shows that enforcement of these policies can be pushed largely into the processor itself, by using tagged memory support, which can provide stronger security guarantees by enforcing application security even if the OS kernel is compromised. This paper presents the Loki tagged memory architecture, along with a novel operating system structure that takes advantage of tagged memory to enforce application security policies in hardware. The author has built a full-system prototype of Loki by modifying a synthesizable SPARC core, mapping it to an FPGA board, and porting HiStar, a Unix-like operating system, to run on it.

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