Paper 2016/980

TruSpy: Cache Side-Channel Information Leakage from the Secure World on ARM Devices

Ning Zhang, Kun Sun, Deborah Shands, Wenjing Lou, and Y. Thomas Hou


As smart, embedded devices are increasingly integrated into our daily life, the security of these devices has become a major concern. The ARM processor family, which powers more than 60% of embedded devices, introduced TrustZone technology to offer security protection via an isolated execution environment called secure world. Caches in TrustZone-enabled processors are extended with a non-secure (NS) bit to indicate whether a cache line is used by the secure world or the normal world. This cache design improves system performance by eliminating the need to perform cache flush during world switches; however, it also enables cache contention between the two worlds. In this work, we present TruSpy, the first study of timingbased cache side-channel information leakage of TrustZone. Our proposed attack exploits the cache contention between normal world and secure world to recover secret information from secure world. Two attacks are proposed in TruSpy, namely, the normal world OS attack and the normal world Android app attack. In the OS-based attack, the attacker is able to access virtual-to-physical address translation and high precision timers. In the Android app-based attack, these tools are unavailable to the attacker, so we devise a novel method that uses the expected channel statistics to allocate memory for cache probing. We also show how an attacker might use the less accurate performance event interface as a timer. Using the T-table based AES implementation in OpenSSL 1.0.1f as an example, we demonstrate that it is possible for a normal world attacker to steal a fine-grained secret from the secure world using a timing-based cache side-channel. We can recover the full AES encryption key via either the OSbased attack or the Android app-based attack. Since our zero permission TruSpy attack is based on the cache design in TrustZone enabled ARM processors, it poses a significant threat to a wide array of devices. To mitigate the newly discovered threat, we also propose both application-based and system-oriented countermeasures.

Available format(s)
Publication info
Preprint. MINOR revision.
side channel attackcacheTrustZoneAES
Contact author(s)
ningzh @ vt edu
2016-10-15: received
Short URL
Creative Commons Attribution


      author = {Ning Zhang and Kun Sun and Deborah Shands and Wenjing Lou and Y.  Thomas Hou},
      title = {TruSpy: Cache Side-Channel Information Leakage from the Secure World on ARM Devices},
      howpublished = {Cryptology ePrint Archive, Paper 2016/980},
      year = {2016},
      note = {\url{}},
      url = {}
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