PixelVault: Using GPUs for securing cryptographic operations

Giorgos Vasiliadis, Elias Athanasopoulos, Michalis Polychronakis, Sotiris Ioannidis

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

35 Citations (Scopus)


Protecting the confidentiality of cryptographic keys in the event of partial or full system compromise is crucial for containing the impact of attacks. The Heartbleed vulnerability of April 2014, which allowed the remote leakage of secret keys from HTTPS web servers, is an indicative example. In this paper we present PixelVault, a system for keeping cryptographic keys and carrying out cryptographic operations exclusively on the GPU, which allows it to protect secret keys from leakage even in the event of full system compromise. This is possible by exposing secret keys only in GPU registers, keeping PixelVault's critical code in the GPU instruction cache, and preventing any access to both of them from the host. Due to the non-preemptive execution mode of the GPU, an adversary that has full control of the host cannot tamper with PixelVault's GPU code, but only terminate it, in which case all sensitive data is lost. We have implemented a PixelVault-enabled version of the OpenSSL library that allows the protection of existing applications with minimal modifications. Based on the results of our evaluation, PixelVault not only provides secure key storage using commodity hardware, but also significantly speeds up the processing throughput of cryptographic operations for server applications. Copyright is held by the owner/author(s).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781450329576, 9781450329576, 9781450331470, 9781450331500, 9781450331517, 9781450331524, 9781450331531, 9781450331548, 9781450331555, 9781450332392
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2014
Externally publishedYes
Event21st ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security, CCS 2014 - Scottsdale, United States
Duration: 3 Nov 20147 Nov 2014


Other21st ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security, CCS 2014
CountryUnited States



  • GPU
  • Isolation
  • Tamper resistance
  • Trusted execution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Computer Networks and Communications

Cite this

Vasiliadis, G., Athanasopoulos, E., Polychronakis, M., & Ioannidis, S. (2014). PixelVault: Using GPUs for securing cryptographic operations. In Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (pp. 1131-1142). Association for Computing Machinery. https://doi.org/10.1145/2660267.2660316