Hacky Racers: Exploiting Instruction-Level Parallelism to Generate Stealthy Fine-Grained Timers

26 Nov 2022  ·  Haocheng Xiao, Sam Ainsworth ·

Side-channel attacks pose serious threats to many security models, especially sandbox-based browsers. While transient-execution side channels in out-of-order processors have previously been blamed for vulnerabilities such as Spectre and Meltdown, we show that in fact, the capability of out-of-order execution \emph{itself} to cause mayhem is far more general. We develop Hacky Racers, a new type of timing gadget that uses instruction-level parallelism, another key feature of out-of-order execution, to measure arbitrary fine-grained timing differences, even in the presence of highly restricted JavaScript sandbox environments. While such environments try to mitigate timing side channels by reducing timer precision and removing language features such as \textit{SharedArrayBuffer} that can be used to indirectly generate timers via thread-level parallelism, no such restrictions can be designed to limit Hacky Racers. We also design versions of Hacky Racers that require no misspeculation whatsoever, demonstrating that transient execution is not the only threat to security from modern microarchitectural performance optimization. We use Hacky Racers to construct novel \textit{backwards-in-time} Spectre gadgets, which break many hardware countermeasures in the literature by leaking secrets before misspeculation is discovered. We also use them to generate the first known last-level cache eviction set generator in JavaScript that does not require \textit{SharedArrayBuffer} support.

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Cryptography and Security Hardware Architecture


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