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Secure Computer Hardware in the Age of Pervasive Security Attacks

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Thursday, February 14, 2019
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12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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Mengjia Yan, Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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CS - ECE seminar

Recent attacks such as Spectre and Meltdown have shown how vulnerable modern computer hardware is. The root cause of the problem is that computer architects have traditionally focused on performance and energy efficiency. Security has never been a first-class requirement. Moving forward, however, this has to radically change: we need to rethink computer architecture from the ground-up for security.

As an example of this vision, in this talk, I will focus on speculative execution in out-of-order processors --- a core computer architecture technology that is the target of the recent attacks. I will describe InvisiSpec, the first robust hardware defense mechanism against speculative (a.k.a transient) execution attacks. The idea is to make loads invisible in the cache hierarchy, and only reveal their presence at the point when they are safe. Once an instruction is deemed safe, our hardware is able to cheaply modify the cache coherence state in a consistent manner.