Hardware-software contracts for secure speculation, Best Paper Award at the 42nd IEEE Symposium

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Credit: Comunidad de Madrid

IMDEA Software Institute researchers Marco Guarnieri and Pepe Vila together with Boris Köpf (Microsoft Research) and Jan Reineke (Saarland University) won a best paper award at the 42nd IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy (S&P) for their paper “Hardware-Software Contracts for Secure Speculation”.

Since the discovery of Spectre, a large number of hardware mechanisms for secure speculation has been proposed. Intuitively, more defensive mechanisms are less efficient but can securely execute a larger class of programs, while more permissive mechanisms may offer more performance but require more defensive programming. Unfortunately, there are no hardware-software contracts that would turn this intuition into a basis for principled co-design.

The paper develops a framework for defining hardware-software contracts that capture hardware side-channel security guarantees in a simple, mechanism-independent manner. The framework provides foundations for principled co-design of hardware and software for side-channel resistant systems. Using this framework, the authors characterize the security guarantees provided by recent hardware mechanisms for secure speculation; mapping each mechanism to a set of hardware-software contracts. Contracts are also the basis for secure programming, where different contracts impose distinct software-level requirements for end-to-end security.

The work was supported by a grant from Intel Corporation, Atracción de Talento Investigador grant 2018- T2/TIC-11732A, Juan de la Cierva-Formación grant FJC2018- 036513-I, Spanish project RTI2018-102043-B-I00 SCUM, and Madrid regional project S2018/TCS-4339 BLOQUES.

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