Reproducing Spectre Attack with gem5, How To Do It Right?

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

Welcome to the additional web page from the "Reproducing Spectre Attack with gem5, How To Do It Right?" paper published at EuroSec'21 by Pierre Ayoub and Clémentine Maurice. The "Simulating Transient Execution Attacks with gem5" master thesis is also an interesting document concerning the background knowledge which is extensively described, while the results mentioned in this document are obsolete. This work was presented at:

  1. EuroSec'21: Slides (PDF version) Video
  2. ICHSA'21: Slides

This page will guide you through the reproduction of the experiments, the usage of our implementations and through the demonstration of some techniques discussed in the paper.

This web page is part of a GitHub repository.

2 HowTo

In this section, we will guide through step-by-step in the usage of our implementations. You can jump from one HowTo to another to see what it is about, but to make things work, you will have to follow them in the order below (note that shell variables are shared across sections). Let's start!

2.1 How to Setup the Native ARM System

To reproduce this work, you will need:

  • An ARM board. We used a Raspberry Pi v4 Model B Rev 1.1 embedding a ARM Cortex-A72 (ARMv8-A) processor implemented in a SoC Broadcom BCM2711.
  • A 64-bit operating system (kernel and userland) for ARM. We used Kali Linux (stable v2020.2a, with a Linux kernel v4.19.118-Re4son-v8l+ and a GCC compiler v9.3) because:
    1. It is a full 64-bit operating system supporting ARM,
    2. The kernel is nearly the same as the one provided by gem5,
    3. The kernel sources and headers are available with apt (for developing kernel modules, if you do so).

Install the Kali Linux distribution. At the time of the study, the image was hosted on the official website and available through direct download. Unfortunately, you'll now have to either download the last version on the official website, download the same version as we used through a torrent (unofficiel) or compile it yourself. Here, we assume that you download the image through the torrent and place the .xz file in the /tmp directory:

cd /tmp
xzcat "$zip" > "$img"
rm -f "$zip"

Then, insert your SD card in your computer, and make sure that device block name is correct (find it with lsblk and umount it if it has been automatically mounted). Bit-copy the image on the SD card:

sdcard=/dev/sdX # Replace the X with your block device letter.
sudo dd bs=4M if="$img" of="$sdcard" status=progress conv=fsync

Now, plug the SD card in the Raspberry Pi, plug an Ethernet cable and plug the power cable in it. Then, find the IP address associated to it and connect with the kali login and kali password:

ip="" # Find the correct IP with nmap or your router interface.
ssh kali@$ip
# We used the following software:
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get -y install linux-cpupower git

You can log in the root account by issuing the command sudo su root if needed.

You are now ready to compile and reproduce Spectre on the Raspberry Pi.

2.2 How to Perform the Spectre Attack

We assume that you are on the ARM system described in Section 2.1 or an equivalent one.

First, clone the repository:

git clone
# We will use this variable to designate the repository through the hole file.
cd "$reproduce_repo"

Simply use the Makefile to compile our implementation, described in Section 3.1:

cd spectre && make

Test if the binary is working by displaying a useful help message:

./spectre --help
Usage: spectre [OPTION...]
Spectre -- A Spectre implementation useful for research

  -c, --cache_threshold=NUMBER   Cache threshold separating hit and miss
                             (default: automatically computed)
  -l, --loops=NUMBER         Number of loops (training and attack) per attempts
                             (default: 30)
  -m, --meta=NUMBER          Number of meta-repetition of Spectre (default: 1)
  -q, -s, --quiet, --silent  Don't produce the header for csv
  -t, --tries=NUMBER         Number of attempts to guess a secret byte
                             (default: 999)
  -v, --verbose              Produce verbose output
  -?, --help                 Give this help list
      --usage                Give a short usage message
  -V, --version              Print program version

Mandatory or optional arguments to long options are also mandatory or optional
for any corresponding short options.

Report bugs to <>.

And test the attack with the default parameters like this:


If it works correctly, you surely want to generate the metrics as we do in the paper and customize some parameters. The metrics will be generated in a csv format, you can then redirect them to a file. To do so, we use this loop to repeat the hole experiment. We first launch one experiment, and relaunch the others with the -q flag to suppress header line:

# Parameters.
runs=50 # Number of runs - 1.
m=10    # Number of meta repetition in the binary itself.
t=999   # Number of attempts to guess one byte.
l=100   # Number of loop per attempt.
# Runs.
./spectre/spectre -m $m -l $l -t $t
for (( i = 1; i < $runs; i++ ))
    ./spectre/spectre -q -m $m -l $l -t $t   

Optional. If you want to obtain the perf_event metrics under a gem5 simulation, you will have to recompile the Spectre binary with a patch. To do that, use git-apply to apply the patch, save the previously compiled binary with another name and relaunch make:

# Apply the patch
cd "$reproduce_repo"
git apply spectre/perf.c.patch
# Save the previous binary
cd spectre
mv spectre spectre_native
# Compile the new Spectre

2.3 How to Setup gem5 for a Full-System Simulation

To reproduce this work, you will need:

Note that this gem5 version and the images are now obsolete. You can of course follow our steps, but then for a new research, it would be better to use the latest gem5 version and images with the new recommended methods (e.g., Docker container).

First, install the recommended packages:

sudo apt install build-essential git m4 scons zlib1g zlib1g-dev \
    libprotobuf-dev protobuf-compiler libprotoc-dev libgoogle-perftools-dev \
    python3-dev python3-six python libboost-all-dev pkg-config

Clone the gem5 repository:

git clone
# We will use this variable to designate the gem5 repository through the hole
# file.
cd "$gem5_repo"

Checkout the commit for version 20.0:

git checkout v20.0.0.0

Optional. If you want to obtain the perf_event metrics under a gem5 simulation, you will have to apply a patch from our repository to the gem5 source code to enable perf_event on the gem5 side (note that it should not be required on the latest gem5 version). To do that, use:

git apply "$reproduce_repo"/gem5/perf_event.patch

And finally, compile it in optimized mode (opt), for the ARM architecture (ARM), with 8 cores and for Python 3. It can take several hours:

scons PYTHON_CONFIG=python$py_version-config build/$arch/gem5.$mode -j $cores

If everything is working, you should be able to display the help of our simulation script:

build/ARM/gem5.opt -q "$reproduce_repo"/gem5/ --help   
usage: [-h] [-v] [--num-cores NUM_CORES] [--se] [--fs]
                [--fs-kernel FS_KERNEL] [--fs-disk-image FS_DISK_IMAGE]
                [--fs-workload-image FS_WORKLOAD_IMAGE]
                [--fs-restore FS_RESTORE]
                [se-command [se-command ...]]

Raspberry Pi 4 Model B Rev. 1.1 - Syscall emulation & Full-system simulation
Script based on a real Raspberry Pi system. It is shipped with a "reproduced"
ARM Cortex-A72 CPU. The intended use is security research. It can be used both
in system-call emulation or full-system simulation. For the full-system
simulation mode only, first boot your system and create a checkpoint where the
used CPU will be the atomic one. Only then, restore you system from your
checkpoint, where the CPU used will be the detailed one. When passing
filenames in arguments of the script, please be sure that your M5_PATH
environment variable is set accordingly.

positional arguments:
  se-command            Command(s) to run (multiples commands are assigned to
                        a dedicated core)

optional arguments:
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -v, --verbose         Print detailed information of what is done
  --num-cores NUM_CORES
                        Number of CPU cores (default = 1)
  --se                  Enable system-call emulation (must provide 'command'
                        positional arguments)
  --fs                  Enable full-system emulation (must provide '--fs-
                        kernel' and '--fs-disk-image' options)
  --fs-kernel FS_KERNEL
                        Filename of the Linux kernel to use in full-system
                        emulation (searched under '$M5_PATH/binaries'
  --fs-disk-image FS_DISK_IMAGE
                        Filename of the disk image containing the system to
                        instantiate in full-system emulation
  --fs-workload-image FS_WORKLOAD_IMAGE
                        Filename of the disk image containing the workload to
                        mount in full-system emulation
  --fs-restore FS_RESTORE
                        Path to a folder created by "m5 checkpoint" command to
                        use for restoration

Otherwise, check the docs/gem5_errors.html file to see if the compilation error has already been encountered.

You will also need to compile m5term, a tool using sockets to connect to the gem5 system (telnet could also be used instead, but this one is more appreciate):

cd util/term

Let's create the images you need to perform a full-system simulation. First, you have to download the operating system and the kernel images that you will use over our simulated hardware:

cd "$gem5_repo"
mkdir $img_dir && cd $img_dir
# OS
wget -O - | bunzip2 > linaro-minimal-aarch64.img
# Kernel
wget -O - | tar xjv

Then, you will have to create a third workload.img image that will contain the file(s) that you want to use in your experiments. In order to do that, first create a 100MB zero file (you can change the size with the count parameter):

dd if=/dev/zero of=$img count=200K

Create a loopback device in order to access the image as a block device:

dev=$(sudo losetup -f)
sudo losetup -fP $img

Create a DOS partition table and a primary partition on the entire image, then format the new created partition with the ext4 file system:

echo "," | sudo sfdisk $dev
sudo mke2fs "$dev"p1

Finally, you are done at modifying your image, detach it from the loopback device:

sudo losetup -d $dev

Now, you have a persistent file that will hold your files for the simulation. Define a function that will be used each time you need to update the image with new files (binaries, data…):

# $1: workload image name/path.
# $*: list of files to copy.
workload_update() {
    local_dev=$(sudo losetup -f)
    # Get arguments.
    # Create the mount folder and the loop device.
    sudo mkdir -p $local_mnt
    sudo losetup -fP "$local_img"
    # Mount the block device.
    sudo mount -o loop "$local_dev"p1 $local_mnt
    # Copy files/folders.
    sudo cp -r -f -t $local_mnt $*
    # List the files to confirm.
    ls -alh $local_mnt
    # Unmount the image and freed the loop device.
    sudo umount $local_mnt
    sudo losetup -d $local_dev

We will use this function later. All your 3 images will be mounted directly in the simulated system by gem5 itself, and the files in the workload image will be accessible in read/write. This is an efficient and handy way to communicate with a gem5 simulation.

2.4 How to Simulate Spectre with gem5

We assume that you are able to compile and know how to perform a Spectre attack with our binary (at least in theory), described in Section 2.2.

We assume that your gem5 setup is ready to perform a full-system simulation, described in Section 2.3.

Boot. The first step is to boot the system once, which can take up to one entire hour. You will launch the simulation of our system, described in Section 3.2, with gem5. Call gem5 with our Python script describing our system, declare 4 cores and the images for the full-system simulation with this command:

cd "$reproduce_repo"/gem5
"$gem5_repo"/build/ARM/gem5.opt -q -d 01boot \
                                ./ -v --num-cores=4 --fs \
                                --fs-kernel="$gem5_repo"/"$img_dir"/binaries/vmlinux.arm64 \
                                --fs-disk-image="$gem5_repo"/"$img_dir"/linaro-minimal-aarch64.img \

On another shell, launch the following command to connect to your simulation with m5term:

"$gem5_repo"/util/term/m5term localhost 3456

You must now see the boot process of the simulated system. Wait for the boot process to finish until you get a prompt, and then, issue the following command:

m5 checkpoint

This will create a snapshot of the running system just after the boot process in the 01boot/cpt.{ticknumber} folder. Now, you will be able to restore the snapshot in a matter of second each time you want to simulate an experiment, there is no need to wait for the boot process anymore (except if you modify some parameters of the system in the Python files).

You can terminate your simulation. Press C-d to disconnect from the terminal, and use the following command to kill gem5:

pkill gem5

Spectre. This time, you will be able to simulate the Spectre attack in a full-system simulation. First, copy the Spectre binary on the workload.img image. Use our predefined function (Section 2.3) for that:

cd "$reproduce_repo"
workload_update "$gem5_repo"/"$img_dir"/"$img" spectre/spectre

You know have a ready workload.img image with the Spectre binary inside. The last step is to relaunch the simulation from the previous checkpoint:

"$gem5_repo"/build/ARM/gem5.opt -q -d 02restore \
                                   ./ -v --num-cores=4 --fs \
                                   --fs-kernel="$gem5_repo"/"$img_dir"/binaries/vmlinux.arm64 \
                                   --fs-disk-image="$gem5_repo"/"$img_dir"/linaro-minimal-aarch64.img \
                                   --fs-workload-image="$gem5_repo"/"$img_dir"/"$img" \

On another shell, you can connect to the restored simulation and wait reaching the prompt (a matter of seconds or 1-2 minutes):

"$gem5_repo"/util/term/m5term localhost 3456

Inside the m5term session, you can issue these two commands to access to the Spectre binary:

mkdir -p workload
# /dev/vdb1 correspond to the image given with the --fs-workload option.
mount /dev/vdb1 ./workload

And finally launch the Spectre attack inside the simulated system:

cd workload
./spectre -m 10 -l 100 -t 999

To extract your result from the simulation, you can either redirect them in a file on the mounted workload.img image, or copy-paste the terminal.

When the Spectre attack will finish, you can terminate your simulation. Press C-d to disconnect from the terminal, and use the following command to kill gem5:

pkill gem5

2.5 How to Visualize the Pipeline of a gem5 Processor with Konata

Konata is an external program allowing to see graphically the instructions executed in the pipeline of a simulated processor. We suggest to the reader to read this guide before using it. The first thing to do is to download the pre-compiled binary from its official repository:

mkdir konata && cd konata
wget -O - '' | tar -xz

In order to visualize the pipeline, you'll have to:

  1. Find which part of the simulation you want to see (otherwise the generated data will be too large),
  2. Run this part of the simulation with specific flags,
  3. Open the generated data in Konata.

Firstly, to determine which portion of the simulation you want to see with Konata, you'll have to run the simulation once without any special flag and stop it (with C-c) at the time where the interesting part is starting. For example, in our experiment, the interesting part is the core of the Spectre attack. A possibility is to put a printf in your code just before this part and stop the simulation when you see the output text.

When stopping the simulation, you will see a message like this one:

Exiting @ tick 3266927000 because user interrupt received

Here, 3266927000 is the number of tick we want to start the monitoring of executed instruction. We will refer to it as $ticknumber.

Then, you'll have to run a simulation with the --debug-flags=O3PipeView --debug-file=pipeview.txt flags passed to the gem5 binary and the --debug-start=$ticknumber set accordingly to the previous step:

"$gem5_repo"/build/ARM/gem5.opt -q \
            --debug-flags=O3PipeView --debug-file=pipeview.txt --debug-start=$ticknumber \
            "$reproduce_repo"/gem5/ -v --se
            "$reproduce_repo/spectre/spectre -l 100"

When the simulation is over (or when you stopped it because it past the last point of interest), you just have to launch the graphical interface of Konata by issuing the "$konata_dir/konata" command, click on File and search for the pipeview.txt file generated with gem5 in the simulation folder.

Then, you will see a lot of instructions. How to understand and find an interesting part in the visualization? There is two main methods:

  • Find regular pattern and match them with the loops in the C code,
  • Find the addresses of the instructions in the found patterns and match them with the instructions in the assembly code.

Demonstration. Let's visualize the pipeline during the Spectre attack. We generated a trace of a Spectre execution with the commands above, except that we used the implementation by the IAIK team (pocs/spectre/PHT/sa_ip/poc_arm). We provide the needed trace in the docs/data/konata directory of the repository, we encourage you to follow our step-by-step guide at the same time.

Launch Konata with the $konata_dir/konata binary and open the pipeview.txt file from the pipeview.txt.tar.bz2 archive. The first thing to do after loading the trace file is to enable Hide flushed instruction in the Konata menu, otherwise, you won't be able to see any pattern but only a linear stream (which is the goal of speculative execution) due to a lot of flushed instruction. Then, un-zoom to identify patterns. Below the C code of the main loop of the binary:

while (1) {
    // for every byte in the string
    j = (j + 1) % sizeof(DATA_SECRET);

    // mistrain with valid index
    for(int y = 0; y < 10; y++) {
    // potential out-of-bounds access

    // only show inaccessible values (SECRET)
    if(j >= sizeof(DATA) - 1) {
        mfence(); // avoid speculation
        // Recover data from covert channel
        cache_decode_pretty(leaked, j);

In the picture below, you can see one main loop iteration of the attack which iterate over each byte to guess. The first bold blank line, top left, is the end of the first iteration, while the second, bottom right, is the end of the second iteration.


Figure 1: One main loop iteration.

If you zoom-in on the bold line at the bottom right of the screenshot (discussed above), you can see this: it's the end of the cache_decode_pretty() C function – the receiver part of the covert-channel –, where there is a 100 times loop over a volatile variable to add a delay. To deduce yourself this information, you can count the number of iterations (when it's small enough) or look at the addresses of the instructions (which we do not provide here) by zooming a bit more.


Figure 2: Loop over a variable to add a delay.

Now that you have identified the main patterns by knowing when an attack's iteration begin and finish, you can try to look directly for an address, in order to find a transient execution. Below is the code of the conditional branch that Spectre attacks, you see on the assembly code that its address is 0x00400e74 corresponding to the 0x400e88 instruction.

char access_array(int x) {
    // flushing the data which is used in the condition increases
    // probability of speculation
    size_t len = sizeof(DATA) - 1;

    // ensure data is flushed at this point

    // check that only accessible part (DATA) can be accessed
    if((float)x / (float)len < 1) {
        // countermeasure: add the fence here
        // Encode in cache
 100: sym.access_array (int64_t arg1, int64_t arg_1ch, int64_t arg_28h);; arg int64_t arg_1ch @ sp+0x1c; arg int64_t arg_28h @ sp+0x28; arg int64_t arg1 @ x00x00400e2c      fd7bbda9       stp x29, x30, [sp, -0x30]!   ; sp=0xffffffffffffffd00x00400e30      fd030091       mov x29, sp                 ; x29=0xffffffffffffffd00x00400e34      e01f00b9       str w0, [sp + arg_1ch]      ; arg10x00400e38      a00080d2       movz x0, 0x5                ; x0=0x50x00400e3c      e01700f9       str x0, [sp + arg_28h]0x00400e40      9f3b03d5       dsb ish
│           0x00400e44      e0a30091       add x0, sp, 0x28            ; x0=0xfffffffffffffff80x00400e48      c2feff97       bl sym.flush                ;[1] ; lr=0x400e4c -> 0x910073e0 ; pc=0x400950 -> 0xd50b7e200x00400e4c      e0730091       add x0, sp, 0x1c            ; x0=0xffffffffffffffec0x00400e50      c0feff97       bl sym.flush                ;[1] ; lr=0x400e54 -> 0xd5033b9f ; pc=0x400950 -> 0xd50b7e200x00400e54      9f3b03d5       dsb ish
│           0x00400e58      e11f40b9       ldr w1, [sp, 0x1c]          ; [0x1c:4]=-1 ; 28 ; tmp=0xffffffffffffffec ; w1=0xffffffff0x00400e5c      e01740f9       ldr x0, [sp, 0x28]          ; sym.thread_arena; [0x28:4]=-1 ; tmp=0xfffffffffffffff8 ; x0=0xffffffffffffffff0x00400e60      2000221e       scvtf s0, w1
│           0x00400e64      0100239e       ucvtf s1, x0
│           0x00400e68      0018211e       fdiv s0, s0, s1             ; s0=0x10x00400e6c      01102e1e       fmov s1, 10x00400e70      1020211e       fcmpe s0, s1
│       ╭─< 0x00400e74      a5000054 0x400e88               ; pc=0x400e88 -> 0xa8c37bfd ; likely
│       │   0x00400e78      200400d0       adrp x0, 0x486000           ; x0=0x486000
│       │   0x00400e7c      00cc47f9       ldr x0, [x0, 0xf98]         ; [0xf98:4]=-1 ; 3992 ; tmp=0x486f98 ; x0=0x489a08 obj.data_1
│       │   0x00400e80      00c86138       ldrb w0, [x0, w1, sxtw]     ; w0=0xff
│       │   0x00400e84      56ffff97       bl sym.cache_encode         ;[2] ; lr=0x400e88 -> 0xa8c37bfd ; pc=0x400bdc -> 0x90000441 ; sym.cache_encode(0xff, 0xffffffff)
│       │   ; CODE XREF from sym.access_array @ 0x400e74
│       ╰─> 0x00400e88      fd7bc3a8       ldp x29, x30, [sp], 0x30    ; x29=0xffffffffffffffff ; x30=0xffffffffffffffff
           0x00400e8c      c0035fd6       ret                         ; pc=0xffffffffffffffff

This time, you want to re-enable Hide flushed instruction from the menu, otherwise you will not see the transient execution. To find the address, graphically return at the beginning of the trace and zoom-in until seeing the instructions addresses at the left. Then, press F1, type "f 0x00400e74", press Enter once to search for the address 0x00400e74 from the beginning, and press F3 again until finding a transient execution. An instruction has been executed transiently when it is shadowed. After hitting F3 many dozens of time, you must see this at line 12781:


Figure 3: Bound check followed by a transient execution with the malicious index.

In Spectre's source code, we know that the function memaccess() is used inside the cache_encode() function, that means that it is used when the malicious transient load happened. Below the source code of this function and the corresponding assembly code:

void maccess(void *p) {
    volatile uint32_t value;
    asm volatile("LDR %0, [%1]\n\t" : "=r"(value) : "r"(p));
    asm volatile("DSB ISH");
    asm volatile("ISB");
 28: sym.maccess (int64_t arg1);; var int64_t var_4h @ sp+0xc; arg int64_t arg1 @ x00x00400960      ff4300d1       sub sp, sp, 0x100x00400964      000040f9       ldr x0, [x0]0x00400968      e00f00b9       str w0, [sp + var_4h]0x0040096c      9f3b03d5       dsb ish              
│ 0x00400970      df3f03d5       isb                  
│ 0x00400974      ff430091       add sp, sp, 0x10     
 0x00400978      c0035fd6       ret                  

If you zoom-in a bit, you will be able to see every execution stage for each instruction at a certain time. The first ret at address 0x40095c is the return of the flush() C function into the access_array() function. You can see how long was the instruction at the searched address (with the 0x400e88 mnemonic) to be executed due to the condition which was long to resolve, more than the others. This is graphically represented by an instruction which takes more space on the horizontal axis. The speculative execution happened just after it. The transient read you are interested in is the ldr x0, [x0] at address Ox400964 (in the maccess() function), which is completed but never committed, and leak the secret value in the micro-architectural domain. You can see that this was the last transiently executed instruction in this block, if the bound check would have been 10 cycles shorter, then the attack would have failed!


Figure 4: Transient execution of a read instruction with a malicious index.

If you search over all the pipeline trace, you will not see another transient execution of this load with a malicious index. That means that despite all the iterations, the branch predictor defeated the Spectre attack for the following iterations, which explains the bad results we had with this implementation. You could search for when this happened by looking at the assembly code of the main loop (C code already given here):


Figure 5: Main loop of Spectre, which iterate over every byte in the secret string (Assembly code).

Search for the address 0x004006ac of the bl sym.cache_decode_pretty instruction, from the beginning, without Hide flushed ops enabled. At some point, you will arrive here:


Figure 6: Spectre defeated by the branch predictor.

You see the branch predictor defeating Spectre by predicting that the branch in access_array() will not be taken, and thus, directly executing the code after the branch at address 0x00400e88. Since it is predicted not taken while it is in reality not taken because it's the attack, the branch predictor was not tricked by Spectre. Then the code enter the cache_decode_pretty() function at the searched address to read the cached letters – and the function will only find the bytes used in the training phase, no leaked bytes.

Finally, we show here an iteration where the branch predictor is trained by Spectre, by taken the branch with a valid index.


Figure 7: Branch predictor being trained.

In summary, you were able to see the three scenarios:

  1. When Spectre succeed and retrieve a byte,
  2. When Spectre is defeated and failed – which has been helpful during our research,
  3. When Spectre trains the branch predictor before the attack.

Note that gem5 is able to output a large number of information from every element of the system. For instance, during our work, we used to trace instruction execution, which output the state of the processor along with the executed instruction, by using the "--debug-flags=O3CPU,Exec" flag for the gem5 binary. We also used the "$gem5_repo"/util/tracediff binary, which allows to navigate in a diff view of the instructions executed between two simulation with different parameters, with this command:

"$gem5_repo"/util/tracediff \
            "$gem5_repo"/build/ARM/gem5.opt -q --debug-flags=Exec,-ExecSymbol \
            "$gem5_repo"/configs/example/arm/ \
            "\"$reproduce_repo/spectre/spectre -l 100\"|\"$reproduce_repo/spectre/spectre -l 50\""

3 Implementations

3.1 Spectre

Our implementation lives in the spectre directory of the repository:

├── asm.c
├── asm.h
├── main.c
├── Makefile
├── perf.c
├── perf.c.patch
├── perf.h
├── spectre_pht_sa_ip.c
├── spectre_pht_sa_ip.h
├── util.c
└── util.h

0 directories, 11 files

It is composed of the following modules:

ARM assembly implementation. Directly inside the files, we described in details the use of the dsb, isb and dc civac instructions in order to implement the mfence(), ifence(), flush(), rdtsc() functions as well as an anti-speculation, a memory access function and Flush+Reload functions.
Orchestrate all the modules. Handles the arguments, the meta-repetition of the attack, the memory allocations, and the metrics reporting.
perf_event wrapper. It builds convenient functions to initialize perf_event and read the counters on top of the Linux system calls.
Spectre implementation (for the PHT-SA-IP version). Implements the covert-channel, the training and the attack phase, as well as the simple heuristic to determine if the guess is correct.
Utilities functions used across the binary. Implements the argument handling, cache-hit threshold detector, gem5's related function, hamming distance and others useful functions.

The utility of the patch is discussed in Section 2.2. Its purpose is only to comment/uncomment a few lines to switch from a working perf_event on a native ARM system to a working perf_event on a gem5 ARM system (this is still a TODO item in the code). Note that there is a lot of comments into the code to explain everything, don't hesitate to look at it to understand specific parts of the Spectre attack, the assembly instructions, or the choices that have been made.

3.2 gem5

Our gem5 system lives in the gem5 directory of the repository:

├── perf_event.patch

0 directories, 3 files

It is composed of the following modules:

Cluster and cores classes based on the ARM Cortex A72 processor. This file defines the classes of a lot of important components, like the branch predictor, the walker cache, the L1/L2 caches, the cores and the processor itself, the pipeline configuration, and the connections between all these components. Note that modeling a processor is a very complex and long task, thus this model is surely not suitable to use for a high-fidelity performance evaluation, rather it is suitable to be used for security research.
System class based on a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B. This file defines the classes of the main memory, the system itself (RealView platform), tied-up every component and implements the functions that interface gem5 and the host operating system (disks, arguments, PMU). In this file, a lot of instantiation of objects that lack documentation in gem5 are explained in the comments, feel free to refer to it if you want to know how a full-system simulation works and how to implement it in a "convenient way".

The "convenient way" we talked about in the last paragraph corresponds to:

The boot process
The first boot is done with a simple and fast processor model (an AtomicSimpleCPU), which allows to boot the system in less that one hour. When a restoration is done, it is automatically detected and replace the simple and fast processor model by a detailed and slow one (a derived O3CPU).
The workload share
Several methods exists to share files between the host system and the gem5 system, as modifying the large operating system image or piping through the terminal. Our choice was to create a new block device on the gem5 system and to use a dedicated so-called "workload" image, allowing to use an unmodified system image, to swap them, and to be less error prone than terminal piping.
The simulation mode
Regarding the goal of an experiment, it can be useful to use the system-call emulation (fast) or the full-system simulation (realistic) with the same simulated hardware (system and processor models). Thus, our system support the both modes with the same Python file, unlike the majority of scripts provided with gem5.

The utility of the patch is discussed in Section 2.3. Briefly, it generates the PMU declaration in the device tree to enable communication between the Linux kernel and the gem5 PMU model. To deeply understand what the patch does and how it works, see our corresponding StackOverflow post or our ticket on the gem5 mailing list.

4 Appendices

If you are a gem5 user who experience some unresolved errors, you could check the docs/gem5_errors.html file of the repository.

Author: Pierre Ayoub

Created: 2021-06-01 mar. 15:58