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Galahad: introduction

Galahad is Star Lab's solution to IARPRA's VirtUE program. The following is from the proposal; see that document for more details. Note that this project depends on another github project called valor. That project holds the Valor component seperately to simplify testing.

Galahad, a revolutionary user computer environment (UCE) for the Amazon Cloud that is designed to be highly interactive while mitigating legacy and cloud-specific threats. Galahad meets all 11 requirements called out in IARPA-BAA-16-12, addressing the broad areas of threat mitigation, sensing and logging, lifecycle management and control, user interaction, and cost and performance. Unique to the VirtUE program is the requirement that a defensible interactive UCE be built on top of a completely untrusted computing foundation, namely Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Star Lab’s Galahad takes a holistic approach to creating a secure, interactive UCE. Galahad leverages role-based isolation, attack surface minimization practices, operating system (OS) and application hardening techniques, real-time sensing, and maneuver / deception approaches to reduce the risk associated with cloud deployments. Galahad makes no attempt to establish trust, nor does it require specialized, more costly services provided by AWS, e.g., dedicated servers. Instead, Galahad impedes the ability of adversaries to operate within the AWS by making it more difficult to co-locate (either through the use of insiders, compromised hypervisors, witting or unwitting peers, or remote access) with targets, while also requiring adversaries consume more resources. Such an increase in complexity and cost means Galahad also increases the accuracy, rate, and speed with which threats are detected.

Galahad facilitates the construction, deployment, management, and interfacing of role-based virtues. Star Lab’s virtues, consist primarily of two components: Valor, a nested hypervisor and Unity, a virtual machine running a small, hardened, de-privileged Linux operating system (OS). Valor includes protections, sensors, and virtual machine (VM) image authentication, but most importantly it facilitates the regular, recurring live migration of Unity VMs. This moving target defense approach deters hypervisor and peer VM threats within AWS, an operating environment where trust can never be completely established, by limiting the time an adversary has to access targeted virtues while also increasing the number of access points required by the adversary to be successful.

Unity includes additional protections to address external and insider threats while also incorporating a compatibility layer for supporting legacy Windows applications and adjustable sensors. Limiting Unity to Linux (versus using Linux and Windows) allows Star Lab to more greatly reduce the overall attack surface of the virtue, improve performance, and streamline development. Additionally, executing Windows applications on Linux increases the uncertainty, complexity, and cost to the adversary.

Sensing and logging take place throughout the Galahad software stack, without requiring modifications to the applications under protection. Within Unity, these introspection points consist of kernel instrumentation, activity monitors, and sensing points added to the compatibility layer. Additional sensing and logging capabilities are layered across Unity and Valor creating tripwires to detect adversary tampering. Overall, a virtue’s protections and sensing capabilities are adjustable, updatable, and collaborative, forcing adversaries to navigate a well-covered attack surface to avoid detection. Furthermore, the use of role-based virtues to reduce behavior complexity boosts out-of-band analytics making Galahad a highly defensible construct.


For reference, here are the requirements and how Galahad addresses them:

  1. Interfacing with virtues within AWS Galahad’s Virtue Control API enables the lifecycle management of virtues, to include their secure deployment into AWS.

  2. Immutable minimized virtues Galahad’s Virtue Assembler automates the creation of immutable, minimized virtues.

  3. Role-based virtues All applications required for a role are installed within a single Unity instance, which in turn executes within a single instance of Valor. Galahad maintains a 1:1 Unity to Valor relationship.

  4. Defensible virtualized construct Galahad’s Unity and Valor are built with only required functionality, configured to reduce the attack surface, and regularly migrated, addressing external, internal, peer, and infrastructure threats.

  5. Virtue logging and adjustability Galahad’s sensors span the entire software stack and Galahad’s Log Digester filters logs based on configurations and tasking received through Galahad’s Sensing and Logging Control API.

  6. Dynamic virtue protections Dynamic protections include live migration, memory sanitization, and a stackable security policy model. Protections are adjusted through the Virtue Control API.

  7. Legacy application Unity includes a compatibility layer specifically designed to support support legacy Windows applications.

  8. Information exchange Galahad’s Virtue-Canvas API facilitates the secure exchange of presentation information and enables resource sharing.

  9. Virtue presentation interface Galahad’s Canvas is a lightweight application or webpage that presents the components necessary to invoke and interact with applications running inside virtues.

  10. Virtue performance Virtues have minimal inherent “must-have” AWS requirements. Star Lab will use an AWS integrated test environment to better refine instance configurations that effect cost and performance.

  11. Virtue management Inspired by Docker, Galahad’s Virtue Assembler enables the easy transportation and extension of existing virtues as well as the attestation of virtue creators.


The technical tasks are broken down as follows:

1.Virtue Construct Research and Development

1.1. Design and Develop Threat Mitigation Enablers

1.2. Integrate Application Support Enablers

  1. Canvas Research and Development

2.1. Design and Develop Canvas Interface

2.2. Design and Develop Resource Sharing

  1. Virtue Lifecycle Management Research and Development

3.1. Design and Develop Virtue Building and Packaging Tool

3.2. Design and Develop Virtue Control

  1. Sensor and Logging Research and Development

4.1. Design and Develop a Sensor Suite

4.2. Design and Develop Sensor Control

  1. System Testing and Experimentation

  2. Technology Demonstration and Evaluation

  3. Reporting and Management

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