Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Machine: Protecting Privacy with Ephemeral Channels

Alan M. Dunn, Michael Z. Lee, Suman Jana, Sangman Kim, Mark Silberstein, Yuanzhong Xu, Vitaly Shmatikov, and Emmett Witchel

Proceedings of the USENIX Operating Systems Design and Implementation (OSDI) 2012.

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Operating Systems, Security

Modern systems keep long memories. As we show in this paper, an adversary who gains access to a Linux system, even one that implements secure deallocation, can recover the contents of applications’ windows, audio buffers, and data remaining in device drivers—long after the applications have terminated. We design and implement Lacuna, a system that allows users to run programs in “private sessions.” After the session is over, all memories of its execution are erased. The key abstraction in Lacuna is an ephemeral channel, which allows the protected program to talk to peripheral devices while making it possible to delete the memories of this communication from the host. Lacuna can run unmodified applications that use graphics, sound, USB input devices, and the network, with only 20 percentage points of additional CPU utilization.