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"Meltdown and Spectre: Exploiting Abandoned State in the Microarchitecture"

19 Sep
Wednesday, 09/19/2018 1:15pm to 2:30pm
Computer Science Building, Room 151
Security Seminar
Speaker:  Chip Weems

Cybersecurity Institute
Security Speaker Series

Abstract: The recent announcement of security exploits based on speculation in modern processors was at first assumed to be a bug that could be corrected in software or microcode, and eventually in hardware. But a deeper understanding shows that these are actually taking advantage of a performance feature, speculation, that is integral to the microarchitecture. While Meltdown can be mostly avoided by a performance-reducing change in the OS (kernel page-table isolation), Spectre cannot be completely avoided in software. A secure fix will require changes to the hardware. Simple hardware changes will result in performance loss for some applications, and not address all variants. Corrections that preserve performance and address all of the Spectre variants will require extensive and very costly changes because speculation with abandonment of non-functional state modifications has become a pervasive approach in microarchitecture implementation.

Bio: Charles Weems earned the B.S. in 1977 (honors) and M.A. in 1979, from Oregon State University, and the Ph.D. in 1984 from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His current research interests include architectures for media and embedded applications, GPU computing, and high precision arithmetic (his group developed key components of the NVIDIA XMP library). Previously he led development of two generations of the first heterogeneous, tightly-coupled, massively parallel processor, called the Image Understanding Architecture. He is the author of numerous articles, has served on many program committees, chaired the 1997 IEEE CAMP Workshop, the 1999 IEEE Frontiers Symposium, co-chaired IEEE IPDPS in 1999, 2000, and 2013, was general vice-chair for IPDPS from 2001 through 2005. He has co-authored twenty-eight introductory CS texts, and co-edited the books Associative Processing and Processors, and Topics in Parallel and Distributed Computing. He is a member of ACM, Senior Member of IEEE, and a member of the Advisory Committee (formerly vice-chair) of the IEEE TC on Parallel Processing, and chairs its Diversity committee.

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