Testing Side-Channel Security of Cryptographic Implementations against Future Microarchitectures


Konferenz / Medium


Yuval Yarom David Wu Peter Schwabe David Mateos Romero Marco Guarnieri Daniel Genkin Chitchanok Chuengsatiansup Sunjay Cauligi Marcel Böhme Gilles Barthe

Research Hub

Research Hub C: Sichere Systeme

Research Challenges

RC 7: Building Secure Systems


How will future microarchitectures impact the security of existing cryptographic implementations? As we cannot keep reducing the size of transistors, chip vendors have started developing new microarchitectural optimizations to speed up computation. A recent study (Sanchez Vicarte et al., ISCA 2021) suggests that these optimizations might open the Pandora's box of microarchitectural attacks. However, there is little guidance on how to evaluate the security impact of future optimization proposals.

To help chip vendors explore the impact of microarchitectural optimizations on cryptographic implementations, we develop (i) an expressive domain-specific language, called LmSpec, that allows them to specify the leakage model for the given optimization and (ii) a testing framework, called LmTest, to automatically detect leaks under the specified leakage model within the given implementation. Using this framework, we conduct an empirical study of 18 proposed microarchitectural optimizations on 25 implementations of eight cryptographic primitives in five popular libraries. We find that every implementation would contain secret-dependent leaks, sometimes sufficient to recover a victim's secret key, if these optimizations were realized. Ironically, some leaks are possible only because of coding idioms used to prevent leaks under the standard constant-time model.


Software Security
Implementation Attacks
Computer Architecture