Researchers Defeat AMD’s SEV Virtual Machine Encryption

Researchers defeat AMD’s Secure Encrypted Virtualization (SEV), demonstrating #SEVered attack that could allow malicious hypervisor to steal plain-text data from an encrypted virtual machine.

German security researchers claim to have found a new practical attack against virtual machines (VMs) protected using AMD’s Secure Encrypted Virtualization (SEV) technology that could allow attackers to recover plaintext memory data from guest VMs.

AMD’s Secure Encrypted Virtualization (SEV) technology, which comes with EPYC line of processors, is a hardware feature that encrypts the memory of each VM in a way that only the guest itself can access the data, protecting it from other VMs/containers and even from an untrusted hypervisor.

Discovered by researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied and Integrated Security in Munich, the page-fault side channel attack, dubbed SEVered, takes advantage of lack in the integrity protection of the page-wise encryption of the main memory, allowing a malicious hypervisor to extract the full content of the main memory in plaintext from SEV-encrypted VMs.

Here’s the outline of the SEVered attack, as briefed in the paper: SEVered: Subverting AMD’s Virtual Machine Encryption

«While the VM’s Guest Virtual Address (GVA) to Guest Physical Address (GPA) translation is controlled by the VM itself and opaque to the HV, the HV remains responsible for the Second Level Address Translation (SLAT), meaning that it maintains the VM’s GPA to Host Physical Address (HPA) mapping in main memory.

«This enables us to change the memory layout of the VM in the HV. We use this capability to trick a service in the VM, such as a web server, into returning arbitrary pages of the VM in plaintext upon the request of a resource from outside.»

«We first identify the encrypted pages in memory corresponding to the resource, which the service returns as a response to a specific request. By repeatedly sending requests for the same resource to the service while re-mapping the identified memory pages, we extract all the VM’s memory in plaintext.»

During their tests, the team was able to extract a test server’s entire 2GB memory data, which also included data from another guest VM.

In their experimental setup, the researchers used a with the Linux-based system powered by an AMD Epyc 7251 processor with SEV enabled, running web services—the Apache and Nginx web servers—as well as an SSH server, OpenSSH web server in separate VMs.



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