Paper 2007/336

A Major Vulnerability in RSA Implementations due to MicroArchitectural Analysis Threat

Onur Aciicmez and Werner Schindler


Recently, Aciicmez, Koc, and Seifert have introduced new side-channel analysis types,namely Branch Prediction Analysis (BPA) and Simple Branch Prediction Analysis (SBPA), which take advantage of branch mispredictions occur during the operations of cryptosystems [4, 5]. Even more recently, Aciicmez has developed another attack type, I-cache analysis, which exploits the internal functionalities of instruction/trace caches [1]. These MicroArchitectural Analysis (MA) techniques, more specifically SBPA and I-cache Analysis, have the potential of disclosing the entire execution flow of a cryptosystem as stated in [4, 1]. Our focus of interest in this paper is that these attacks can reveal whether an extra reduction step is performed in each Montgomery multiplication operation. First Walter et. al. and then Schindler developed attacks on RSA, which result in total break of the system if the occurrences of extra reduction steps can be determined with a reasonable error rate [39, 30, 29]. These attacks may be viewed as theoretical in the sense that neither Walter et. al. nor Schindler implemented actual attacks on real systems but instead they assumed that side-channel information obtained via power and timing analysis would reveal such occurrences of extra reduction step. In this paper we adjusted the attack from [30] to the current OpenSSL standard and put this attack into practice, proving its practicality via MA. The second part of the attack exploits the previously gathered information on the required extra reductions in an optimal way, using advanced stochastic methods as the formulation and analysis of stochastic processes. Our results show the feasibility of compromising current RSA implementations such as OpenSSL. After we shared our result with OpenSSL development team, they included a patch into the stable branch ([45]), which allows users to compile an OpenSSL version that is resistent against our attack ([46]). In particular, this patch will affect the upcoming version of 0.9.8f. We also contacted the US CERT who informed software vendors. The US CERT assigned the vulnerability explained in this paper CVE name CVE-2007-3108 and CERT vulnerability number VU#724968, and they issued a vulnerability note ([47–49]). We point out that this publication appeared in accordance with the OpenSSL development team. Several countermeasures have been developed and employed in widely used cryptographic libraries like OpenSSL to mitigate such side-channel analysis threats. However the current implementations still do not provide sufficient protection against MicroArchitectural Analysis, despite of all the sophisticated mitigation techniques employed in these implementations. In this paper, we will show that one can completely break the RSA implementation of the current OpenSSL version (v.0.9.8e) even if the most secure configuration, including all of the countermeasures against side-channel and MicroArchitectural analysis, is in place. We have only analyzed OpenSSL, thus we currently do not know the strength of other cryptographic libraries. Other libraries and software products need to be thoroughly analyzed and appropriately modified if it is necessary. At least, developers of the current software applications that rely on OpenSSL RSA implementation need to update their products based on the recent OpenSSL changes. Our results indicate that MicroArchitectural Analysis threatens at least 60% of the internet traffic worldwide and the current systems should be analyzed thoroughly to evaluate their overall strength against MicroArchitectural Analysis ([44]). We will eventually discuss appropriate countermeasures that must be employed in security systems.

Available format(s)
Public-key cryptography
Publication info
Published elsewhere. Unknown where it was published
RSAMontgomery MultiplicationMicroArchitectural AnalysisInstruction-Cache AttackBranch Prediction AttackTiming AnalysisSide Channel AnalysisStochastic Process
Contact author(s)
onur aciicmez @ gmail com
2007-08-28: received
Short URL
Creative Commons Attribution


      author = {Onur Aciicmez and Werner Schindler},
      title = {A Major Vulnerability in RSA Implementations due to MicroArchitectural Analysis Threat},
      howpublished = {Cryptology ePrint Archive, Paper 2007/336},
      year = {2007},
      note = {\url{}},
      url = {}
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