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MIT Develops DAWG System for Protecting Cached Data

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At the beginning of the year, the technology security world got a significant wake up as vulnerabilities in speculative execution were publicly revealed. These attacks were called Meltdown and Spectre and since then, more have been discovered. Speculative execution is a performance increasing solution found within many CPU architectures that allows the processor to work ahead of the commands or data given to it, so when the command is sent or the data is ready, the answer can be provided. What was discovered is that this could be abused to get a process to access information it should not be able to, and then expose this information to a malicious actor. While speculative execution is used in AMD, ARM, and Intel processors, Intel was more susceptible and mitigations also hurt performance for some tasks.

Wanting to develop a more efficient means of protection, MIT researchers have created Dynamically Allocated Way Guard, or DAWG, named in reference to Intel's Cache Allocation Technology, CAT. While both are meant to protect the information within a CPU's cache, CAT still leaves some information on the table that could be used for a timing attack. However, DAWG sets clear boundaries on what resources should and should not be shared, and does so at comparable performance to CAT.

As impressive as DAWG is, it does not currently protect against all speculative attacks, but it has been proven to protect against many non-speculative attacks used against cryptographic software. The team is working to make DAWG a solution against all known speculative execution attacks though and are hoping companies will be interested in and adopt its idea, or similar ones, to protect against data breaches.

Source: MIT

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