Purdue University Graduate School
Adil_s_PhD_Thesis.pdf (3.66 MB)

Defeating Critical Threats to Cloud User Data in Trusted Execution Environments

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posted on 2022-07-26, 03:15 authored by Adil AhmadAdil Ahmad

In today’s world, cloud machines store an ever-increasing amount of sensitive user data, but it remains challenging to guarantee the security of our data. This is because a cloud machine’s system software—critical components like the operating system and hypervisor that can access and thus leak user data—is subject to attacks by numerous other tenants and cloud administrators. Trusted execution environments (TEEs) like Intel SGX promise to alter this landscape by leveraging a trusted CPU to create execution contexts (or enclaves) where data cannot be directly accessed by system software. Unfortunately, the protection provided by TEEs cannot guarantee complete data security. In particular, our data remains unprotected if a third-party service (e.g., Yelp) running inside an enclave is adversarial. Moreover, data can be indirectly leaked from the enclave using traditional memory side-channels.

This dissertation takes a significant stride towards strong user data protection in cloud machines using TEEs by defeating the critical threats of adversarial cloud services and memory side-channels. To defeat these threats, we systematically explore both software and hardware designs. In general, we designed software solutions to avoid costly hardware changes and present faster hardware alternatives.

We designed 4 solutions for this dissertation. Our Chancel system prevents data leaks from adversarial services by restricting data access capabilities through robust and efficient compiler-enforced software sandboxing. Moreover, our Obliviate and Obfuscuro systems leverage strong cryptographic randomization and prevent information leakage through memory side-channels. We also propose minimal CPU extensions to Intel SGX called Reparo that directly close the threat of memory side-channels efficiently. Importantly, each designed solution provides principled protection by addressing the underlying root-cause of a problem, instead of enabling partial mitigation.

Finally, in addition to the stride made by our work, future research thrust is required to make TEEs ubiquitous for cloud usage. We propose several such research directions to pursue the essential goal of strong user data protection in cloud machines.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Computer Science

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Pedro Fonseca

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Byoungyoung Lee

Additional Committee Member 2

Aniket Kate

Additional Committee Member 3

Changhee Jung

Additional Committee Member 4

Dongyan Xu