Software Guard Extensions (SGX) are essentially an isolation mechanism. Like an RSA key, it tries to protect code and data from modification or disclosure, even if all privileged software is considered malicious.

Now, Intel added the SGX to its hardware starting with Skylake models in an effort to get a protective fence nailed down around data as it floats through the cloud.

The SGX Concept

The idea was that if you stored the keys inside this special enclave memory area, it would be encrypted and kept isolated from the rest of the chip through Intel’s hardware. Even if attackers got into the enclave somehow, they would find data encrypted and useless — or so Intel thought.

But five people at Graz University of Technology in Austria came up with a way to hose SGX. They devised an attack method that utilizes the first known SGX malware, which they also developed.

These researchers wrote a paper, titled “Malware Guard Extension: Using SGX to Conceal Cache Attacks,” that gets into the details of how they operate the malware. To make their point, they showed it working both in a native environment and across multiple Docker cloud containers.

The malware was a key-stealing proof of concept (PoC) that was directed at another co-located, secured enclave. The malware used SGX against itself, keeping its existence secret from other software processes by hiding inside of the SGX isolation.

Recovering the RSA Key

The researchers reported that the PoC malware was able to recover RSA keys by monitoring the cache access patterns of an RSA signature process in a semisynchronous attack. They found that a “Prime+Probe cache side-channel” attack could get 96 percent of an RSA private key from just one single trace, according to the paper.

SecurityWeek noted that the attack could extract the full RSA private key from 11 traces within five minutes of operation. Once the attackers have the private key, the enclave can be decrypted.

Researchers were able to come up with “highly accurate” timings within an enclave without access to the native time stamp counter. In fact, they reported that the method they used to replace the timer is even more accurate than if they had access to the native counter.

There is no easy mitigation for this problem. A comprehensive solution may require changes to the enclave, operating system and hardware itself. Until a resolution is found, this is a serious and ubiquitous vulnerability, and SGX is making it undetectable.

More from

How to Spot a Nefarious Cryptocurrency Platform

Do you ever wonder if your cryptocurrency platform cashes in ransomware payments? Maybe not, but it might be worth investigating. Bitcoin-associated ransomware continues to plague companies, government agencies and individuals with no signs of letting up. And if your platform gets sanctioned, you may instantly lose access to all your funds. What exchanges or platforms do criminals use to cash out or launder ransomware payments? And what implications does this have for people who use exchanges legitimately? Blacklisted Exchanges and Mixers…

Are Threat Actors Using ChatGPT to Hack Your Network?

Though the technology has only been widely available for a couple of months, everyone is talking about ChatGPT. If you are one of the few people unfamiliar with ChatGPT, it is an OpenAI language model with the “ability to generate human-like text responses to prompts.” It could be a game-changer wherever AI meshes with human interaction, like chatbots. Some are even using it to build editorial content. But, as with any popular technology, what makes it great can also make…

Why Crowdsourced Security is Devastating to Threat Actors

Almost every day, my spouse and I have a conversation about spam. Not the canned meat, but the number of unwelcomed emails and text messages we receive. He gets several nefarious text messages a day, while I maybe get one a week. Phishing emails come in waves — right now, I’m getting daily warnings that my AV software license is about to expire. Blocking or filtering has limited success and, as often as not, flags wanted rather than unwanted messages.…

Bridging the 3.4 Million Workforce Gap in Cybersecurity

As new cybersecurity threats continue to loom, the industry is running short of workers to face them. The 2022 (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study identified a 3.4 million worldwide cybersecurity worker gap; the total existing workforce is estimated at 4.7 million. Yet despite adding workers this past year, that gap continued to widen. Nearly 12,000 participants in that study felt that additional staff would have a hugely positive impact on their ability to perform their duties. More hires would boost proper…