gsc – Graphene Shielded Containers


GSC is still under development and must not be used in production! Please see issue #1520 for a description of missing features and security caveats.




Docker containers are widely used to deploy applications in the cloud. Using Graphene Shielded Containers (GSC) we provide the infrastructure to deploy Docker containers protected by Intel SGX enclaves using the Graphene Library OS.

The gsc tool transforms a Docker image into a new image (called gsc-<image-name>) which includes the Graphene Library OS, manifest files, Intel SGX related information, and executes the application inside an Intel SGX enclave using the Graphene Library OS. It follows the common Docker approach to first build an image and subsequently run a container of an image. At first a Docker image has to be graphenized via the gsc build command. When the graphenized image should run within an Intel SGX enclave, the image has to be signed via a gsc sign-image command. Subsequently, the image can be run using docker run.


The installation descriptions of prerequisites are for Ubuntu 18.04 and may differ when using a different Ubuntu version or Linux distribution.

Software packages

Please install the, python3, python3-pip packages. In addition, install the Docker client python package via pip. GSC requires Python 3.6 or later.

sudo apt install python3 python3-pip
pip3 install docker pyyaml jinja2

Kernel modules and services

To run Intel SGX applications, please install the following kernel driver and services.

Host configuration

To create Docker images, the user must have access to Docker daemon.


Please use this step with caution. By granting the user access to the Docker group, the user may acquire root privileges via docker run. You could also run commands as root.

sudo adduser $USER docker

Create a configuration file called config.yaml or specify a different configuration file via gsc option. Please see the documentation on configuration options below and use the config.yaml.template as reference.

Command line arguments


Display usage.

gsc build – build graphenized image

Builds an unsigned graphenized Docker image of an application image called gsc-<IMAGE-NAME>-unsigned by compiling Graphene or relying on a prebuilt Graphene image.




Compile Graphene with debug flags and debug output. If configured to use a prebuilt Graphene image, the image has to support this option.


Compile Graphene with Linux PAL in addition to Linux-SGX PAL. If configured to use a prebuilt Graphene image, the image has to support this option.


Allow untrusted arguments to be specified at docker run. Otherwise any arguments specified during docker run are ignored.


Disable Docker’s caches during gsc build. This builds the unsigned graphenized image from scratch.


Remove intermediate Docker images created by gsc build, if the image build is successful.


Set build-time variables during gsc build (same as docker build –build-arg).


Specify configuration file. Default: config.yaml


Name of the application Docker image


Application-specific manifest file for the executable entrypoint of the Docker image


Application-specific Manifest for the n-th application

gsc sign-image – signs a graphenized image

Signs the enclave of an unsigned graphenized Docker image and creates a new Docker image called gsc-<IMAGE-NAME>. gsc sign-image always removes intermediate Docker images, if successful or not, to ensure the removal of the signing key in intermediate Docker images.


gsc sign-image [OPTIONS] <IMAGE-NAME> <KEY-FILE>


Specify configuration file. Default: config.yaml


Name of the application Docker image


Used to sign the Intel SGX enclave

gsc build-graphene – build Graphene-only Docker image

Builds a base Docker image including the Graphene sources and compiled runtime. This base image can be used as input for gsc build via configuration parameter Graphene.Image.


gsc build-graphene [OPTIONS] <IMAGE-NAME>


Compile Graphene with debug flags and debug output. Allows gsc build commands to include debug runtime using -d.


Compile Graphene with Linux PAL in addition to Linux-SGX PAL. Allows gsc build commands to include the Linux PAL using -L.


Disable Docker’s caches during gsc build-graphene. This builds the unsigned graphenized image from scratch.


Remove intermediate Docker images created by gsc build-graphene, if the image build is successful.


Set build-time variables during gsc build-graphene (same as docker build –build-arg).


Specify configuration file. Default: config.yaml


Stop after Dockerfile is created and do not build the Docker image.


Name of the resulting Graphene Docker image

Using Graphene’s trusted command line arguments

Most applications aren’t designed to run with attacker-controlled arguments. Allowing an attacker to control application arguments can break the security of the resulting enclave.

gsc build uses the existing Docker image’s entrypoint and cmd fields to identify the trusted arguments. These arguments are stored in trusted_argv. This file is only generated when --insecure-args is not specified. As a result any arguments specified during docker run are ignored.

To be able to provide arguments at runtime, the image build has to enable this via the option --insecure-args.

Application-specific manifest files

Each application loaded by Graphene requires a separate manifest file. gsc semi-automatically generates these manifest files. It generates a list of trusted files, assumes values for the number of stacks and memory size, and generates the chain of trusted children (see below for details). To allow specializing each application manifest, gsc allows the user to augment each generated manifest. In particular, this allows to add additional trusted or allowed files and specify a particular enclave size or number of Thread Control Structures (TCS).

gsc allows application-specific manifest files to be empty or not to exist. In this case gsc generates a generic manifest file.

Docker images starting multiple applications

Depending on the use case, a Docker container may execute multiple applications. The Docker image defines the entrypoint application which could fork additional applications. A common pattern in Docker images executes an entrypoint script which calls a set of applications. In Graphene the manifest of a parent application has to specify all trusted children that might be forked.

We define the parent-child relationship by overestimating the set of possible children. Multiple applications are specified as arguments to gsc. The example below creates a Docker image with three applications. Based on the specified chain of applications, gsc generates parent-child relationships between application appi and all applications after it in the chain (> appi). This overestimates the set of trusted children and may not map to the actual partent-child relationship. In the example below app1 may call app2 or app3, and app2 may call app3, but app2 may not call app1, and app3 may not call app1 or app2.

gsc build image app1.manifest app2.manifest app3.manifest

Stages of building graphenized SGX Docker images

The build process of a graphenized Docker image from image <image-name> follows four main stages and produces an image named gsc-<image-name>. gsc build generates the first two stages (building/pulling Graphene and graphenizing the base image) and gsc sign-image generates the last two stages (signing the Intel SGX enclave and generating the final Docker image).

Building or Pulling Graphene

The first stage either compiles Graphene based on the provided configuration (see config.yaml) which includes the distribution (e.g., Ubuntu 18.04), Graphene repository, and the Intel SGX driver details, or pulls a prebuilt Docker image also defined via the configuration file. Prebuilt images will be provided for popular cloud-provider offerings or can be created via gsc build-graphene.

Graphenizing the application image

The second stage copies the important Graphene artifacts (e.g., the runtime and signer tool) from the first stage. It then prepares image-specific variables such as the executable path and the library path, and scans the entire image to generate a list of trusted files. GSC excludes files and paths starting with /boot, /dev, /proc, /var, /sys and /etc/rc, since checksums are required which either don’t exist or may vary across different deployment machines. GSC combines these variables and list of trusted files to a new manifest file. In a last step the entrypoint is changed to launch the script which generates an Intel SGX token and starts the pal-Linux-SGX loader. The generated image (gsc-<image-name>-unsigned) cannot successfully load an Intel SGX enclave, since essential files and the signing of the enclave are missing.

Signing the Intel SGX enclave

The third stage uses Graphene’s signer tool to generate SIGSTRUCT files for SGX enclave initialization. This tool also generates an SGX-specific manifest files. The required signing key is provided by the user via the gsc sign-image command and copied into this Docker build stage.

Generating a signed graphenized Docker image

The last stage combines the graphenized Docker image with the signed enclave and manifest files. Therefore it copies the SIGSTRUCT files and the SGX-specific manifest file from the previous stage into the graphenized Docker image from the second stage. The resulting image is called gsc-<image-name> and includes all necessary files to start an Intel SGX enclave.


GSC is configured via a configuration file called config.yaml or specified as a gsc option. A template configuration file is provided in config.yaml.template.


Defines Linux distribution to be used to build Graphene in. Currently the only supported value is ubuntu18.04.


Source repository of Graphene. Default value:


Use this branch of the repository. Default value: master


Builds graphenized Docker image based on a prebuilt Graphene Docker image. These images are prepared via gsc build-graphene and will be provided for popular cloud-provider environments. Graphene.Repository and Graphene.Branch are ignored in case Graphene.Image is specified.


Source repository of the Intel SGX driver. Default value:


Use this branch of the repository. Default value: sgx_driver_1.9

Run graphenized Docker images

Execute docker run command via Docker CLI and provide gsgx and isgx/sgx device, and the PSW/AESM socket. Additional Docker options and application arguments may be supplied to the docker run command.


Forwarding devices to a container lowers security of the host. GSC should never be used as a sandbox for applications (i.e. it only shields the app from the host but not vice versa).

docker run –device=/dev/gsgx –device=/dev/isgx -v /var/run/aesmd/aesm.socket:/var/run/aesmd/aesm.socket [OPTIONS] gsc-<IMAGE-NAME> [<ARGUMENTS>]


docker run options. Common options include -it (interactive with terminal) or -d (detached). Please see Docker manual for details.


Name of original image (without GSC build).


Application arguments to be supplied to the application launching inside the Docker container and Graphene. Such arguments may only be provided when --insecure-args was specified during gsc build.

Execute with Linux PAL instead of Linux-SGX PAL

When specifying -L during GSC gsc build, you may select the Linux PAL at Docker run time instead of the Linux-SGX PAL by specifying the environment variable GSC_PAL as an option to the docker run command. When using the Linux PAL, it is not necessary to sign the image via a gsc sign-image command.


Specifies the pal loader

docker run ... --env GSC_PAL=Linux gsc-<image-name> ...


The test folder in Tools/gsc describes how to graphenize Docker images and test them with sample inputs. The samples include Ubuntu-based Docker images of Bash, Python, nodejs, Numpy, and Pytorch.


All test images rely on insecure arguments to be able to set test-specific arguments to each application. These images are not intended for production environments.

The example below shows how to graphenize the public Docker image of Python3. This example assumes that all prerequisites are installed and configured.

  1. Pull public Python image from Dockerhub:

    docker pull python
  2. Create a configuration file:

    cd Tools/gsc
    cp config.yaml.template config.yaml
    # Adopt config.yaml to the installed Intel SGX driver and desired Graphene
    # repository.
  3. Graphenize the Python image using gsc build:

    ./gsc build --insecure-args python test/ubuntu18.04-python3.manifest
  4. Sign the graphenized Docker image using gsc sign-image:

    # Generate signing key (if you don't already have a key)
    openssl genrsa -3 -out enclave-key.pem 3072
    # Sign graphenized Docker image with the key
    ./gsc sign-image python enclave-key.pem
  5. Test the graphenized Docker image:

    docker run --device=/dev/gsgx --device=/dev/*sgx \
       -v /var/run/aesmd/aesm.socket:/var/run/aesmd/aesm.socket \
       gsc-python -c 'print("HelloWorld!")'


This document focuses on the most important limitations of GSC. Issue #1520 provides the complete list of known limitations and serves as a discussion board for workarounds.

Dependency on Ubuntu 18.04

Docker images not based on Ubuntu 18.04 may not be compatible with GSC. GSC relies on Graphene to execute Linux applications inside Intel SGX enclaves and the installation of prerequisites depends on package manager and package repositories.

GSC can simply be extended to support other distributions by providing a template for this distribution in Tools/gsc/templates.

Trusted data in Docker volumes

Data mounted as Docker volumes at runtime is not included in the general search for trusted files during the image build. As a result, Graphene denies access to these files, since they are neither allowed nor trusted files. This will likely break applications using files stored in Docker volumes.


Trusted files can be added to image-specific manifest file (first argument to gsc build command) at build time. This workaround does not allow these files to change between build and run, or over multiple runs. This only provides integrity for files and not confidentiality.

Allowing dynamic file contents via Graphene protected files

Docker volumes can include Graphene protected files. As a result Graphene can open these protected files without knowing the exact contents as long as the protected file was configured in the application-specific manifest. The complete and secure use of protected files may require additional steps.

Integration of Docker Secrets

Docker Secrets are automatically pulled by Docker and the results are stored either in environment variables or mounted as files. GSC is currently unaware of such files and hence, cannot mark them trusted. Similar to trusted data, these files may be added to the application-specific manifest.

Access to files in excluded paths

The manifest generation excludes all files and paths starting with /boot, /dev, /proc, /var, /sys, and /etc/rc from the list of trusted files. If your application relies on some files in these directories, you must manually add them to the application-specific manifest:


Docker images with non-executables as entrypoint

Docker images may contain a script entrypoint which is not an ELF executable. gsc fails to recognize such entrypoints and fails during the image build. A workaround relies on creating an image from the application image which has an entrypoint of the script interpreter with the script as an argument. This allows gsc to start the interpreter instead of the script.