Transient execution attacks, also known as speculative execution attacks, have drawn much interest in the last few years as they can cause critical data leakage. Since the first disclosure of Spectre and Meltdown attacks in January 2018, a number of new transient execution attack types have been demonstrated targeting different processors. A transient execution attack consists of two main components: transient execution itself and a covert channel that is used to actually exfiltrate the information.Transient execution is a result of the fundamental features of modern processors that are designed to boost performance and efficiency, while covert channels are unintended information leakage channels that result from temporal and spatial sharing of the micro-architectural components. Given the severity of the transient execution attacks, they have motivated computer architects in both industry and academia to rethink the design of the processors and to propose hardware defenses. To help understand the transient execution attacks, this survey summarizes the phases of the attacks and the security boundaries across which the information is leaked in different attacks.This survey further analyzes the causes of transient execution as well as the different types of covert channels and presents a taxonomy of the attacks based on the causes andmore »
Online Detection of Spectre Attacks Using Microarchitectural Traces from Performance Counters
To improve processor performance, computer architects have adopted such acceleration techniques as speculative execution and caching. However, researchers have recently discovered that this approach implies inherent security flaws, as exploited by Meltdown and Spectre. Attacks targeting these vulnerabilities can leak protected data through side channels such as data cache timing by exploiting mis-speculated executions. The flaws can be catastrophic because they are fundamental and widespread and they affect many modern processors. Mitigating the effect of Meltdown is relatively straightforward in that it entails a software-based fix which has already been deployed by major OS vendors. However, to this day, there is no effective mitigation to Spectre. Fixing the problem may require a redesign of the architecture for conditional execution in future processors. In addition, a Spectre attack is hard to detect using traditional software-based antivirus techniques because it does not leave traces in traditional log files. In this paper, we proposed to monitor microarchitectural events such as cache misses, branch mispredictions from existing CPU performance counters to detect Spectre during attack runtime. Our detector was able to achieve 0% false negatives with less than 1% false positives using various machine learning classifiers with a reasonable performance overhead.
- Award ID(s):
- Publication Date:
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Journal Name:
- Proceedings of the 30th International Symposium on Computer Architecture and High Performance Computing (SBAC-PAD 2018)
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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