secret byte you want to read is stored at inaccessible memory location
- The sender triggers an access exception by attempting to read
- Due to CPU optimization (out-of-order execution), the load of
priv_mem and the use of its value in (4) and (5) below may execute before the exception is triggered.
- Calculate an
offset into a known array
probe by multiplying
secret by the width of a cache line. This guarantees each of those 256 possible offsets will cache separately.
probe[offset], which causes the CPU to cache exactly one chunk of of our array, populating one cache line.
- The exception finally triggers, clearing the modified registers...but cached data is not excised.
- Iterate over all 256 offsets into
probe to find out which one loads fast. You've determined the value of
probe array is flushed from cache before this process, so only the
secret-based offset gets cached.
- The access exception triggers a memory fault, terminating the application, so it is performed in another process (i.e. a fork).
- This could possibly be mitigated in microcode translation by forcing an ordering guarantee on the access check and the subsequent memory loads, but that would cause all memory accesses (including legal ones) to wait for the access check.
- The kernel-level fix isolates the kernel's memory pages, so that all accesses are checked to see whether they come from a privileged process. This is where the performance impact comes from.
- AMD and ARM are not affected by this exploit because they do not allow privileged memory reads to be executed before the access check. Hence, there are no cache effects to observe in step 7.
- AMD (and some ARM, apparently) are vulnerable to the related Spectre attack, which utilizes processor branch prediction to trick the CPU into executing instructions it would not normally, but the vectors to transmit the results are more difficult to achieve.
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