[Resource Topic] 2024/775: Spec-o-Scope: Cache Probing at Cache Speed

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Spec-o-Scope: Cache Probing at Cache Speed

Authors: Gal Horowitz, Eyal Ronen, Yuval Yarom


Over the last two decades, microarchitectural side channels have been the focus of a large body of research on the development of new attack techniques, exploiting them to attack various classes of targets and designing mitigations. One line of work focuses on increasing the speed of the attacks, achieving higher levels of temporal resolution that can allow attackers to learn finer-grained information. The most recent addition to this line of work is Prime+Scope [CCS '21], which only requires a single access to the L1 cache to confirm the absence of victim activity in a cache set. While significantly faster than prior attacks, Prime+Scope is still an order of magnitude slower than cache access. In this work, we set out to close this gap.

We draw on techniques from research into microarchitectural weird gates, software constructs that exploit transient execution to perform arbitrary computation on cache state. We design the Spec-o-Scope gate, a new weird gate that performs 10 cache probes in quick succession, which forms the basis for our eponymous attack. Our Spec-o-Scope attack achieves an order of magnitude improvement in temporal resolution compared to the previous state-of-the-art of Prime+Scope, reducing the measurement time from ~70 cycles to only 5 — only one cycle more than an L1 cache access. We experimentally verify that our attack can detect timing differences in a 5 cycle resolution. Finally, using our Spec-o-Scope attack, we are able to show the first microarchitectural side-channel attack on an unmodified AES S-box-based implementation, which uses generic CPU features and does not require manipulation of the operating system’s scheduler.

ePrint: https://eprint.iacr.org/2024/775

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