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.
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 from Brightsurf:

Guiding the way to improved solar cell performance
Small molecules could hold the key to enhancing the efficiency of organic solar cells.

Performance test for neural interfaces
Freiburg researchers develop guidelines to standardize analysis of electrodes.

Cognitive performance - Better than our predecessors
We employ our cognitive skills daily to assimilate and process information.

Predicting sports performance with "big data"
Smartphones and wearable devices are not simple accessories for athletes.

All of the performance, none of the fuss: Nitrile hydrogenation done right
Researchers developed a nano-cobalt phosphide catalyst (nano-Co2P) for the hydrogenation of nitriles to primary amines.

Big ideas in performance management 2.0
Industrial-era performance management paradigms and practices are outdated and ineffective in the modern VUCA work environment.

Can exercise improve video game performance?
Time spent playing video games is often seen as time stolen from physical activities.

Anticipating performance can hinder memory
Anticipating your own performance at work or school may hinder your ability to remember what happened before your presentation, a study from the University of Waterloo has found.

Want to optimize sales performance?
CATONSVILLE, MD, September 16, 2019- According to new research published in the INFORMS journal Marketing Science, companies can improve sales performance when they adjust sales commissions for the sale of more popular items.

Assessing battery performance: Compared to what?
A team from the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, University of Warwick, OVO Energy, Hawaii National Energy Institute, and Jaguar Land Rover reviewed the literature on the various methods used around the world to characterize the performance of lithium-ion batteries to provide insight on best practices.

Read More: Performance News and Performance Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.