A survey of Microarchitectural Side-channel Vulnerabilities, Attacks, and Defenses in Cryptography

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A Survey of MIcroarchItectural SIde-channel VulnerabIlItIes, Affacks, and Defenses In Cryptography
XIAOXUAN LOU and TIANWEI ZHANG, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
JUN JIANG, Two Sigma Investments, LP, USA
YINQIAN ZHANG, Southern University of Science and Technology, China

Side-channel attacks have become a severe threat to the confidentiality of computer applications and sys- tems. One popular type of such attacks is the microarchitectural attack, where the adversary exploits the hardware features to break the protection enforced by the operating system and steal the secrets from the program. In this article, we systematize microarchitectural side channels with a focus on attacks and de- fenses in cryptographic applications. We make three contributions. (1) We survey past research literature to categorize microarchitectural side-channel attacks. Since these are hardware attacks targeting software, we summarize the vulnerable implementations in software, as well as flawed designs in hardware. (2) We iden- tify common strategies to mitigate microarchitectural attacks, from the application, OS, and hardware levels.

(3) We conduct a large-scale evaluation on popular cryptographic applications in the real world and analyze the severity, practicality, and impact of side-channel vulnerabilities. This survey is expected to inspire side- channel research community to discover new attacks, and more importantly, propose new defense solutions against them.

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CCS Concepts: • General and reference Surveys and overviews; • Security and privacy Side- channel analysis and countermeasures; Cryptanalysis and other attacks;
Additional Key Words and Phrases: Microarchitecture, cryptography, vulnerability analysis
ACM Reference format:
Xiaoxuan Lou, Tianwei Zhang, Jun Jiang, and Yinqian Zhang. 2021. A Survey of Microarchitectural Side- channel Vulnerabilities, Attacks, and Defenses in Cryptography. ACM Comput. Surv. 54, 6, Article 122 (July 2021), 37 pages.

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