A security perspective on Unikernels

Joshua Talbot, Przemek Pikula, Craig Sweetmore, Samuel Rowe, Hanan Hindy, Christos Tachtatzis, Robert Atkinson, Xavier Bellekens

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Cloud-based infrastructures have grown in popularity over the last decade leveraging virtualisation, server, storage, compute power and network components to develop flexible applications. The requirements for instantaneous deployment and reduced costs have led the shift from virtual machine deployment to containerisation, increasing the overall flexibility of applications and increasing performances. However, containers require a fully fleshed operating system to execute, increasing the attack surface of an application. Unikernels, on the other hand, provide a lightweight memory footprint, ease of application packaging and reduced start-up times. Moreover, Unikernels reduce the attack surface due to the self-contained environment only enabling low-level features. In this work, we provide an exhaustive description of the unikernel ecosystem; we demonstrate unikernel vulnerabilities and further discuss the security implications of Unikernel-enabled environments through different use-cases.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2020
EventInternational Conference on Cyber Security and Protection of Digital Services (Cyber Security 2020) - held online (virtual), Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 15 Jun 202019 Jun 2020


ConferenceInternational Conference on Cyber Security and Protection of Digital Services (Cyber Security 2020)


  • unikernel
  • docker
  • container
  • security

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