TIMBER-V: Tag-Isolated Memory Bringing Fine-grained Enclaves to RISC-V

Samuel Weiser, Mario Werner, Ferdinand Brasser, Maja Malenko, Stefan Mangard, Ahmad-Reza Sadeghi
Network and Distributed System Security Symposium — NDSS, 2019

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Embedded computing devices are used on a large scale in the emerging internet of things (IoT). However, their wide deployment raises the incentive for attackers to target these devices, as demonstrated by several recent attacks. As IoT devices are built for long service life, means are required to protect sensitive code in the presence of potential vulnerabilities, which might be discovered long after deployment. Tagged memory has been proposed as a mechanism to enforce various fine-grained security policies at runtime. However, none of the existing tagged memory schemes provides efficient and flexible compartmentalization in terms of isolated execution environments.

We present TIMBER-V, a new tagged memory architecture featuring flexible and efficient isolation of code and data on small embedded systems. We overcome several limitations of previous schemes. We augment tag isolation with a memory protection unit to isolate individual processes, while maintaining low memory overhead. TIMBER-V significantly reduces the problem of memory fragmentation, and improves dynamic reuse of untrusted memory across security boundaries. TIMBER-V enables novel sharing of execution stacks across different security domains, in addition to interleaved heaps. TIMBER-V is compatible to existing code, supports real-time constraints and is open source. We show the efficiency of TIMBER-V by evaluating our proof-of-concept implementation on the RISC-V simulator.