Paper 2007/039

New Branch Prediction Vulnerabilities in OpenSSL and Necessary Software Countermeasures

Onur Aciicmez, Shay Gueron, and Jean-Pierre Seifert


Software based side-channel attacks allow an unprivileged spy process to extract secret information from a victim (cryptosystem) process by exploiting some indirect leakage of ``side-channel'' information. It has been realized that some components of modern computer microarchitectures leak certain side-channel information and can create unforeseen security risks. An example of such MicroArchitectural Side-Channel Analysis is the Cache Attack --- a group of attacks that exploit information leaks from cache latencies. Public awareness of Cache Attack vulnerabilities lead software writers of OpenSSL (version 0.9.8a and subsequent versions) to incorporate countermeasures for preventing these attacks. In this paper, we present a new and yet unforeseen side channel attack that is enabled by the recently published Simple Branch Prediction Analysis (SBPA) which is another type of MicroArchitectural Analysis. We show that modular inversion --- a critical primitive in public key cryptography --- is a natural target of SBPA attacks because it typically uses the Binary Extended Euclidean algorithm whose nature is an input-centric sequence of conditional branches. Our results show that SBPA can be used to extract secret parameters during the execution of the Binary Extended Euclidean algorithm. This poses a new potential risk to crypto-applications such as OpenSSL, which already employs Cache Attack countermeasures. Thus, it is necessary to develop new software mitigation techniques for BPA and incorporate them with cache analysis countermeasures in security applications. To mitigate this new risk in full generality, we apply a security-aware algorithm design methodology and propose some changes to the CRT-RSA algorithm flow. These changes either avoid some of the steps that require modular inversion, or remove the critical information leak from this procedure. In addition, we also show by example that, independently of the required changes in the algorithms, careful software analysis is also required in order to assure that the software implementation does not inadvertently introduce branches that may expose the application to SBPA attacks. These offer several simple ways for modifying OpenSSL in order to mitigate Branch Prediction Attacks.

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Publication info
Published elsewhere. Unknown where it was published
Side channel attacksbranch prediction attackscache eviction attacksBinary Extended EuclideanAlgorithmmodular inversionsoftware mitigation methodsOpenSSLRSACRT.
Contact author(s)
jeanpierreseifert @ yahoo com
2007-02-14: received
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Creative Commons Attribution


      author = {Onur Aciicmez and Shay Gueron and Jean-Pierre Seifert},
      title = {New Branch Prediction Vulnerabilities in OpenSSL and Necessary Software Countermeasures},
      howpublished = {Cryptology ePrint Archive, Paper 2007/039},
      year = {2007},
      note = {\url{}},
      url = {}
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