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PerspicuOS is a prototype operating system that realizes the Nested Kernel, a new operating architecture that restricts access to a device's memory management unit so that it can then perform memory isolation within the kernel. The key challenge that PerspicuOS addresses is how to virtualize the MMU on real hardware, AMD64, in a real operating system, FreeBSD 9.0, while not assuming any hardware privilege separation or kernel integrity properties such as control flow integrity. PerspicuOS presents a technique that allows both trusted and untrusted code to operate at the same hardware privilege level, thereby virtualizing Ring 0 supervisor privilege.

PerspicuOS does this by virtualizing the MMU, which requires memory protections for Page Tables and CPU protections for control register isolation. PerspicuOS protects the page tables by intializing all mappings in the system so that Page Table Pages are mapped as read-only, and then introduces a technique that we call de-privileging to ensure those privileges are never bypassed at runtime. PerspicuOS de-previleges the untrusted portion of the kernel by removing all MMU modifying instructions from the untrusted code's source, which statically reduces its privilege. Then PerspicuOS enforces lifetime kernel code integrity (mapping all code pages as read-only), denies execution of kernel data (using no-execute hardware), and denies execution of user mode code and data pages while in supervisor mode (using supervisor mode execution prevention).

By design PerspicuOS defends against a large class of attacks in code injection because of it's code integrity properties. We also use PerspicuOS to explore protection of the system call vector table, recording modifications of the allproc processor list data structure, and to invoke a security monitor that records audit records to a protected log. For more details on the design of PerspicuOS please read our recent ASPLOS publication here.

Authors and Contributors

PerspicuOS has several contributors: Nathan Dautenhahn, Theodoras Kasampalis, Will Dietz, John Criswell, and Vikram Adve. This work was accomplished while working at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the LLVM research group under the supervision of Vikram Adve.

Build Instructions

Our current nested kernel implementation is for x86-64 FreeBSD is called PerspicuOS.

  1. Install FreeBSD 9.0:

  2. In FreeBSD 9.0 System, clone Nested Kernel PerspicuOS from GitHub

  3. Build the nested kernel (assumes clang is in /usr/bin/clang)

    $ cd REPO_DIR/nk 
    $ make
  4. Configure FreeBSD /etc/src.conf

    # This setting to build world without -Werror: 
    # This setting to build kernel without -Werror: 
    # Configure the system to use clang 
    # Export the nested kernel library directory for the linker script in FreeBSD. 
    # Set the library path to the nested kernel lib 
  5. Make PerspicuOS: Use FreeBSD building instructions selecting the NK kernel configuration

  6. Install and Boot (you can use either the base harddrive or a VM tool Like Qemu, VirtualBox, or VMWare)

We have a tool that automates the kernel compile and install process in "REPO_DIR/scripts/compile_install_test_sva.rb". You can use this, but make sure to read the code to understand how it operates.

Implementation Needs

PerspicuOS does not implement the full nested kernel design. Make sure to review the paper to see a list of currently implemented features.

A few key features requiring further development include: - SMP functionality - Complete NX configuration for non-code pages - Finish IDT, SMM, IOMMU

Comment on PerspicuOS Repo

PerspicuOS was derived from a few other research projects and as such reflects an odd arangement of naming conventions and unused functionality. The nested kernel shared a similar interface as previous work using the SVA compiler based virtual machine (SVA Github), but only includes a small subset of the entire interface, namely the MMU, and modifies the functionality of the internal policies for page-translation updates.

Support or Contact

Having trouble with PerspicuOS? We are currently setting up a suitable method for contact. Otherwise, submit a pull request to start some code specific dialog.


This repository contains the nested kernel implementation as it was built for the ASPLOS 2015 paper, including the FreeBSD prototype PerspicuOS.







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