Investigating the viability of adaptive caches as a defense mechanism against cache side-channel attacks
Bandara, Sahan Lakshitha
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The ongoing miniaturization of semiconductor manufacturing technologies has enabled the integration of tens to hundreds of processing cores on a single chip. Unlike frequency-scaling where performance is increased equally across the board, core-scaling and hardware thread-scaling harness the additional processing power through the concurrent execution of multiple processes or programs. This approach of mingling or interleaving process executions has engendered a new set of security challenges that risks to undermine nearly three decades’ worth of computer architecture design efforts. The complexity of the runtime interactions and aggressive resource sharing among processes, e.g., caches or interconnect network paths, have created a fertile ground to mount attacks of ever-increasing acuteness against these computer systems. One such class of attacks is cache side-channel attacks. While caches are vital to the performance of current processors, they have also been the target of numerous side-channel attacks. As a result, a few cache architectures have been proposed to defend against these attacks. However, these designs tend to provide security at the expense of performance, area and power. Therefore, the design of secure, high-performance cache architectures is still a pressing research challenge. In this thesis, we examine the viability of self-aware adaptive caches as a defense mechanism against cache side-channel attacks. We define an adaptive cache as a caching structure with (i) run-time reconfiguration capability, and (ii) intelligent built-in logic to monitor itself and determine its parameter settings. Since the success of most cache side-channel attacks depend on the attacker’s knowledge of the key cache parameters such as associativity, set count, replacement policy, among others, an adaptive cache can provide a moving target defense approach against many of these cache side-channel attacks. Therefore, we hypothesize that the runtime changes in certain cache parameters should render some of the side-channel attacks less effective due to their dependence on knowing the exact configuration of the caches.
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