Nav: Home

Eliminating infamous security threats

June 12, 2019

Speculative memory side-channel attacks are security vulnerabilities in computers for which no efficient solutions have been found. Existing solutions only address specific security threats without solving the underlying issue.

Speculative side-channel attacks exploit a fundamental functionality in microprocessors to expose security vulnerabilities. The first such security threats, Meltdown and Spectre, were announced last year, but many more have been discovered since. Previous security solutions have been limited and often incurred a high performance penalty.

Now, researchers from Uppsala University, NTNU, and University of Murcia have come up with a more appealing solution, which will be presented at the prestigious International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA) at the end of June. https://iscaconf.org/isca2019/

-- Our solution reduces the performance and energy costs, and increases the security of the computer system, when compared to previous solutions, says Christos Sakalis, PhD student at Uppsala University.

Speculation Exploited

The security vulnerability manifests when the microprocessor tries to guess (speculate) on what to do next. If the microprocessor guesses incorrectly (misspeculates), it will undo any work it has done and start anew. Speculation lies at the core of today's high-performance microprocessors and it is necessary for taking full advantage of the microprocessors' capabilities.

-- In theory, any misspeculations should not leave any visible traces, but they do leave traces nonetheless, says Alexandra Jimborean from Uppsala University.

These traces are exploited by Meltdown and Spectre to retrieve information through so called side-channels. The information can be used to circumvent security checks in the microprocessor to access, e.g., passwords and encryption keys. This has proven to be an "Achilles heel for computer security." The work to find methods to prevent such attacks has been intense, involving people and institutions all over the world. Finally, we now have an efficient solution to the problem.

Different Speculation

Christos Sakalis, Stefanos Kaxiras, Alberto Ros, Alexandra Jimborean, and Magnus Själander have been working together to come up with a new solution.

-- We have developed a new method that completely hides the speculation, says Stefanos Kaxiras from the Uppsala Architecture Research Team at Uppsala University.

The proposed method delays part of the speculation and uses another form of speculation to predict the expected value. This form of speculation is completely invisible.

All this is achieved without reducing the performance of the processors more than 11% and with only a 7% energy usage increase. An earlier proposed solution reduced the performance of the processor by 46% and increased the energy usage by 51%.

-- Our solution requires relatively small modifications to existing processor designs, which in combination with the low performance reduction makes our method practical to employ in future microprocessors, says Magnus Själander from NTNU's Department of Computer Science.
-end-
Christos Sakalis, Stefanos Kaxiras, Alberto Ros, Alexandra Jimborean, and Magnus Sja?lander. 2019. "Efficient Invisible Speculative Execution through Selective Delay and Value Prediction". In The 46th Annual International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA '19), June 22-26, 2019, Phoenix, AZ, USA. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 13 pages. https://doi.org/10.1145/3307650.3322216

Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Related Performance Articles:

Managing stress helps transistor performance
A research team in China have developed a new CESL method that introduces tensile stress into both the channel and the drift region, improving overall performance by offering low drift resistance, high cut-off frequency and desirable breakdown characteristics.
Firms using new reporting method to 'greenwash' performance
New research suggests that some firms manipulate the content and tone of their company reports despite an initiative to make them more concise and balanced.
The influence of stimulants on performance when playing chess
High-performance tournament chess players can actually enhance the highly complex cognitive functions they require by taking substances such as the CNS stimulant methylphenidate or the wakefulness promoter modafinil and thus win more chess matches -- unless they are under time pressure.
Top professional performance through psychopathy
The term 'psychopath' is not flattering: such people are considered cold, manipulative, do not feel any remorse and seek thrills without any fear -- and all that at other's expense.
Keeping antennas at peak performance
KAUST shows the detection of partial faults in antenna array systems could prevent surreptitious performance degradation in wireless networks.
An ordered route to improved performance
KAUST shows a solvate created during the fabrication of perovskite thin films holds the key to reproducibly producing cheap solar cells.
Gestational age may impact academic performance
A new study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology indicates that being born either too early or too late may have a long-term effect on children's academic performance.
Study links athletic performance to mortality
New University of Arizona research suggests that athletes perform better when reminded of something a bit grim: their impending death.
Eating your greens could enhance sport performance
Nitrate supplementation in conjunction with Sprint Interval Training in low oxygen conditions could enhance sport performance a study has found.
People estimate their own abilities based on others' performance
Ratings of our own abilities are strongly influenced by the performance of others, according to a study published July 20 in Neuron.

Related Performance Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...