The Code That Never Ran: Modeling Attacks on Speculative Evaluation presented at IEEESymposium 2019

by Craig Disselkoen, Radha Jagadeesan, Alan Jeffrey, James Riely,


Summary : This paper studies information flow caused by speculation mechanisms in hardware and software. The Spectre attack shows that there are practical information flow attacks which use an interaction of dynamic security checks, speculative evaluation and cache timing. Previous formal models of program execution are designed to capture computer architecture, rather than micro-architecture, and so do not capture attacks such as Spectre. In this paper, we propose a model based on pomsets which is designed to model speculative evaluation. The model is abstract with respect to specific micro-architectural features, such as caches and pipelines, yet is powerful enough to express known attacks such as Spectre and Prime+Abort, and verify their countermeasures. The model also allows for the prediction of new information flow attacks. We derive two such attacks, which exploit compiler optimizations, and validate these experimentally against gcc and clang.