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Date: Fri, 27 Jan 2023 14:51:31 -0600
From: Carlos Bilbao <>
To: "Reshetova, Elena" <>,
 "Michael S. Tsirkin" <>
Cc: Greg Kroah-Hartman <>,
 "Shishkin, Alexander" <>,
 "Shutemov, Kirill" <>,
 "Kuppuswamy, Sathyanarayanan" <>,
 "Kleen, Andi" <>, "Hansen, Dave"
 <>, Thomas Gleixner <>,
 Peter Zijlstra <>, "Wunner, Lukas"
 <>, Mika Westerberg <>,
 Jason Wang <>, "Poimboe, Josh" <>,
 "" <>, Cfir Cohen <>,
 Marc Orr <>, ""
 <>, "" <>,
 "" <>,
 James Morris <>, Michael Kelley <>,
 "Lange, Jon" <>,
 "" <>,
 Linux Kernel Mailing List <>,
 Kernel Hardening <>
Subject: Re: Linux guest kernel threat model for Confidential Computing

On 1/27/23 6:25 AM, Reshetova, Elena wrote:
>> On Fri, Jan 27, 2023 at 08:52:22AM +0000, Reshetova, Elena wrote:
>>>> On Wed, Jan 25, 2023 at 03:29:07PM +0000, Reshetova, Elena wrote:
>>>>> And this is a very special aspect of 'hardening' since it is about hardening a
>>>> kernel
>>>>> under different threat model/assumptions.
>>>> I am not sure it's that special in that hardening IMHO is not a specific
>>>> threat model or a set of assumptions. IIUC it's just something that
>>>> helps reduce severity of vulnerabilities.  Similarly, one can use the CC
>>>> hardware in a variety of ways I guess. And one way is just that -
>>>> hardening linux such that ability to corrupt guest memory does not
>>>> automatically escalate into guest code execution.
>>> I am not sure if I fully follow you on this. I do agree that it is in principle
>>> the same 'hardening' that we have been doing in Linux for decades just
>>> applied to a new attack surface, host <-> guest, vs userspace <->kernel.
>> Sorry about being unclear this is not the type of hardening I meant
>> really.  The "hardening" you meant is preventing kernel vulnerabilities,
>> right? This is what we've been doing for decades.
>> But I meant slightly newer things like e.g. KASLR or indeed ASLR generally -
>> we are trying to reduce a chance a vulnerability causes random
>> code execution as opposed to a DOS. To think in these terms you do not
>> need to think about attack surfaces - in the system including
>> a hypervisor, guest supervisor and guest userspace hiding
>> one component from others is helpful even if they share
>> a privelege level.
> Do you mean that the fact that CoCo guest has memory encrypted
> can help even in non-CoCo scenarios? I am sorry, I still seem not to be able
> to grasp your idea fully. When the privilege level is shared, there is no
> incentive to perform privilege escalation attacks across components,
> so why hide them from each other? Data protection? But I don’t think you
> are talking about this? I do agree that KASLR is stronger when you remove
> the possibility to read the memory (make sure kernel code is execute only)
> you are trying to attack, but again not sure if you mean this. 
>>> Interfaces have changed, but the types of vulnerabilities, etc are the same.
>>> The attacker model is somewhat different because we have
>>> different expectations on what host/hypervisor should be able to do
>>> to the guest (following business reasons and use-cases), versus what we
>>> expect normal userspace being able to "do" towards kernel. The host and
>>> hypervisor still has a lot of control over the guest (ability to start/stop it,
>>> manage its resources, etc). But the reasons behind this doesn’t come
>>> from the fact that security CoCo HW not being able to support this stricter
>>> security model (it cannot now indeed, but this is a design decision), but
>>> from the fact that it is important for Cloud service providers to retain that
>>> level of control over their infrastructure.
>> Surely they need ability to control resource usage, not ability to execute DOS
>> attacks. Current hardware just does not have ability to allow the former
>> without the later.
> I don’t see why it cannot be added to HW if requirement comes. However, I think 
> in cloud provider world being able to control resources equals to being able
> to deny these resources when required, so being able to denial of service its clients
> is kind of build-in expectation that everyone just agrees on.  

Just a thought, but I wouldn't discard availability guarantees like that
at some point. As a client I would certainly like it, and if it's good
for business...

>>>> If you put it this way, you get to participate in a well understood
>>>> problem space instead of constantly saying "yes but CC is special".  And
>>>> further, you will now talk about features as opposed to fixing bugs.
>>>> Which will stop annoying people who currently seem annoyed by the
>>>> implication that their code is buggy simply because it does not cache in
>>>> memory all data read from hardware. Finally, you then don't really need
>>>> to explain why e.g. DoS is not a problem but info leak is a problem - when
>>>> for many users it's actually the reverse - the reason is not that it's
>>>> not part of a threat model - which then makes you work hard to define
>>>> the threat model - but simply that CC hardware does not support this
>>>> kind of hardening.
>>> But this won't be correct statement, because it is not limitation of HW, but the
>>> threat and business model that Confidential Computing exists in. I am not
>>> aware of a single cloud provider who would be willing to use the HW that
>>> takes the full control of their infrastructure and running confidential guests,
>>> leaving them with no mechanisms to control the load balancing, enforce
>>> resource usage, etc. So, given that nobody needs/willing to use such HW,
>>> such HW simply doesn’t exist.
>>> So, I would still say that the model we operate in CoCo usecases is somewhat
>>> special, but I do agree that given that we list a couple of these special
>> assumptions
>>> (over which ones we have no control or ability to influence, none of us are
>> business
>>> people), then the rest becomes just careful enumeration of attack surface
>> interfaces
>>> and break up of potential mitigations.
>>> Best Regards,
>>> Elena.
>> I'd say each business has a slightly different business model, no?
>> Finding common ground is what helps us share code ...
> Fully agree, and a good discussion with everyone willing to listen and cooperate
> can go a long way into defining the best implementation. 
> Best Regards,
> Elena. 

Thanks for sharing the threat model with the list!


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