Conference paper

Sealing OS Processes to Improve Dependability and Safety

In most modern operating systems, a process is a hardware-protected abstraction for isolating code and data. This protection, however, is selective. Many common mechanisms---dynamic code loading, run-time code generation, shared memory, and intrusive system APIs---make the barrier between processes very permeable. This paper argues that this traditional open process architecture exacerbates the dependability and security weaknesses of modern systems. As a remedy, this paper proposes a sealed process architecture, which prohibits dynamic code loading, self-modifying code, shared memory, and limits the scope of the process API. This paper describes the implementation of the sealed process architecture in the Singularity operating system, discusses its merits and drawbacks, and evaluates its effectiveness. Some benefits of this sealed process architecture are: improved program analysis by tools, stronger security and safety guarantees, elimination of redundant overlaps between the OS and language runtimes, and improved software engineering. Conventional wisdom says open processes are required for performance; our experience suggests otherwise. We present the first macrobenchmarks for a sealed-process operating system and applications. The benchmarks show that an experimental sealed-process system can achieve performance competitive with highly-tuned, commercial, open-process systems.


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