MIKELANGELO is targeting to develop hypervisor-level security mechanisms for monitoring and mitigating cache side-channel attacks. Such attacks have been shown to allow an attacker operating from within a VM to extract sensitive information from a co-located VM, via meticulous manipulation of its own memory access, which induces specific patterns of last-level cache (LLC) hit-miss behavior on the shared processor. This, in turn, allows it to deduce information about the activity of the co-located VM.


There are currently a multitude of mechanisms in various layers which aim at mitigating and reducing the cache attack-surface. However, these mechanisms tend to either be implemented at the application level (e.g., as specific patches to crypto libraries), or at the hardware level (e.g., isolating LLC sections for a specific VM). Our vision is developing enhancements to the hypervisor so as to obliterate such attacks. You can call it SCAM (side-channel attack mitigation). We know we do. Our focus on hardening the hypervisor stems from our dual view of things: (1) security should not depend on whether or not every application developer is also a security expert, and as such has installed measures to defend against such attacks, and (2) security should not depend on the specific hardware on which the VM is running. The hypervisor-level is the agnostic-level which should provide security measures in such scenarios.


The basic architecture underlying our solutions is based on both user-level and kernel-level processes interacting to provide a complete suite of mechanisms, including monitoring, profiling, and mitigation.


Figure: SCAM’s architecture in a glance


MIKELANGELO envisions several security mechanisms as part of its hardening of KVM, to be incorporated in the project sKVM hypervisor, including:

  • Introducing well-targeted noise into cache activity
  • Manipulating memory mapping so as to smooth targeted activity across the cache
  • Monitoring and identifying potentially malicious activity by analyzing system counters and timers
  • Page coloring inducing virtual partitioning of some of the cache


As part of the project the BGU team has implemented a fully-operational cache side-channel attack targeting TLS server authentication, and more specifically recovering the private RSA key used by the server as part of the TLS protocol.


Figure: A snapshot of the attack succeeding in recovering a private RSA key.


Achievements and Results


Currently, MIKELANGELO has implemented an LLC side-channel attack able to recover a co-located target’s private RSA key within minutes. We’re sorry(?) we are unable to make the code for this attack publicly available (would you want it to be??)


On the positive side, we have also designed and implemented a noisification (is this a word?) mitigation module as part of SCAM, which applies various methods to introduce noise into the cache activity, targeted at baffling an attacker trying to extract information from the cache side-channel.






  • D2.13 The first sKVM hypervisor architecture – published September 2015, introducing the initial sKVM hypervisor architectures, incorporating the IOcm module for optimizing IO performance, the lightweight virtual RDMA module for improved inter-VM communications, and SCAM — our suggested security suite for the hypervisor.
  • D3.4 sKVM Security Concepts – First Version – published January 2016, introducing the details of our implementation of the LLC side-channel attack, along with further details of the planned mitigation techniques to be developed within MIKELANGELO.


Blog posts


  • Securing co-location: Job opening at BGU, Israel – Published in October 2015, announcing the opening of a postdoctoral research position to focus on the development of hypervisor-level security modules against cache side-channel attacks.

Software releases