Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 3rd Jan 2018 00:42 UTC

A fundamental design flaw in Intel's processor chips has forced a significant redesign of the Linux and Windows kernels to defang the chip-level security bug.

Programmers are scrambling to overhaul the open-source Linux kernel's virtual memory system. Meanwhile, Microsoft is expected to publicly introduce the necessary changes to its Windows operating system in an upcoming Patch Tuesday: these changes were seeded to beta testers running fast-ring Windows Insider builds in November and December.

Crucially, these updates to both Linux and Windows will incur a performance hit on Intel products. The effects are still being benchmarked, however we're looking at a ballpark figure of five to 30 per cent slow down, depending on the task and the processor model. More recent Intel chips have features - such as PCID - to reduce the performance hit.

That's one hell of a bug.

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RE[4]: Overhyped
by Alfman on Wed 3rd Jan 2018 09:27 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Overhyped"
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In this way (or at least, something vaguely like it); the program determines if a virtual address in kernel space corresponds to a "present" page or a "not present" page (without any clue what the page contains or why it's present or if the page is read-only or read/write or executable or even if the page is free/unused space on the kernel heap).

The thing is similar results have been achieved in the past using different techniques with hardily anyone blinking an eye.

For instance:
Indeed, prefetch instructions leak timing information on the exact translation level for every virtual address. More severely, they lack a privilege check and thus allow fetching inaccessible privileged memory into various CPU caches. Using these two properties, we build two attack primitives: the translation-level oracle and the address-translation oracle. Building upon these primitives, we then present three different attacks. Our first attack infers the translation level for every virtual address, effectively defeating ASLR. Our second attack resolves virtual addresses to physical addresses on 64-bit Linux systems and on Amazon EC2 PVM instances in less than one minute per gigabyte of system memory. This allows an attacker to perform ret2dir-like attacks. On modern systems, this mapping can only be accessed with root or kernel privileges to prevent attacks that rely on knowledge of physical addresses. Prefetch Side-Channel Attacks thus render existing approaches to KASLR ineffective. Our third attack is a practical KASLR exploit. We provide a proof-of-concept on a Windows 10 system that enables return-oriented programming on Windows drivers in memory. We demonstrate our attacks on recent Intel x86 and ARM Cortex-A CPUs, on Windows and Linux operating systems, and on Amazon EC2 virtual machines.

Incidentally this paper from 2016 recommends the exact same (slow) countermeasures that the linux kernel and others are now implementing, so if merely getting this meta information was such a big deal on it's own, then why didn't they act sooner when ASLR weaknesses first started being published?

I believe/assume the answer to this lies in the possibility that someone actually managed to breach a kernel boundary to either read or write memory without proper access. I don't know if this is true, but IMHO it would explain the urgency we're seeing.


There has to be more to it than that. I mean I'm not saying your analysis is wrong, but it has to be incomplete. Someone has either demonstrated a reliable attack using this exploit to compromise and/or crash affected systems from low privilege user space code, or there is more to it than there appears to be.

We'll have to wait and see, but as long as we're speculating, here's mine ;) Assuming that the speculative engine doesn't check page permissions for rights before executing speculative branches (as some sources have mentioned), then I wonder if maybe intel is leaking protected memory by a side channel attack on indirect jumps?

Pseudo code example:

// 4GB filled with nothing but "ret" opcodes
memset(dummy, 0xC3, 1<<32);

// ignore the page faults...
sigaction (SIGSEGV, IGNORE);

long best_clocks=~0;
long best_x;
long clocks;

"call [$dummy+eax]");

for(long long x=0; x<0x100000000ULL; x+=CACHE_WIDTH) {

clocks = cpuclocks();
char ignore = dummy[x];
clocks = cpuclocks() - clocks;

if (best_clocks>clocks) {
best_clocks = clocks;
best_x = x;


printf("The value at %lx is near %ld!\n", FORBIDDEN_MEMORY_ADDRESS, best_x);

Bear in mind this is just a very rough idea, but the theory is that if the branch predictor speculatively follows the branch, then page corresponding to the hidden kernel value should get loaded into cache. The call will inevitably trigger a fault, which is expected, but the state of the cache will not get reverted and will therefor leak information about the value in kernel memory. Scanning the dummy memory under clock analysis should reveals which pages are in cache. Different variations of this idea could provide more information.

Edited 2018-01-03 09:39 UTC

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