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Towards a framework for assessing the feasibility of side-channel attacks in virtualized environments

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Abstract

Physically co-located virtual machines should be securely isolated from one another, as well as from the underlying layers in a virtualized environment. In particular the virtualized environment is supposed to guarantee the impossibility of an adversary to attack a virtual machine e.g., by exploiting a side-channel stemming from the usage of shared physical or software resources. However, this is often not the case and the lack of sufficient logical isolation is considered a key concern in virtualized environments. In the academic world this view has been reinforced during the last years by the demonstration of sophisticated side-channel attacks (SCAs). In this paper we argue that the feasibility of executing a SCA strongly depends on the actual context of the execution environment. To reflect on these observations, we propose a feasibility assessment framework for SCAs using cache based systems as an example scenario. As a proof of concept we show that the feasibility of cache-based side-channel attacks can be assessed following the proposed approach.