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More Spectre and Meltdown

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GLL, Timing Leaks Everything, 12 Jan, here. Manual loop unrolling is gonna become popular.

Paul Kocher is the lead author on the second of two papers detailing a longstanding class of security vulnerability that was recognized only recently. He is an author on the first paper. Both papers credit his CRYPTO 1996 paper as originating the broad kind of attack that exploits the vulnerability. That paper was titled, “Timing attacks on implementations of Diffie-Hellman, RSA, DSS, and other systems.” Last week, the world learned that timing attacks can jeopardize entire computing systems, smartphones, the Cloud, everything.

Today we give a high-level view of the Meltdown and Spectre security flaws described in these papers.

Both flaws are at processor level. They are ingrained in the way modern computers operate. They are not the kind of software vulnerabilities that we have discussed several times before. Both allow attackers to read any memory location that can be mapped to the kernel—which on most computers allows targeting any desired memory contents. Meltdown can be prevented by software patches—at least as we know it—but apparently no magic bullet can take out Spectre.

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