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Pathfinder: High-Resolution Control-Flow Attacks with Conditional Branch Predictor

Andrew Kwong
Archit Agarwal
Christina Garman
Daniel Genkin
Dean Tullsen
Deian Stefan
Hosein Yavarzadeh
Max Christman
Mohammadkazem Taram
ACM International Conference on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and Operating Systems, ACM (2024)
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Abstract

This paper presents novel attack primitives that provide adversaries with the ability to read and write the path history register (PHR) and the prediction history tables (PHTs) of the conditional branch predictor in modern Intel CPUs. These primitives enable us to recover the recent control flow (the last 194 taken branches) and, in most cases, a nearly unlimited control flow history of any victim program. Additionally, we present a tool that transforms the PHR into an unambiguous control flow graph, encompassing the complete history of every branch. This work provides case studies demonstrating the practical impact of novel reading and writing/poisoning primitives. It includes examples of poisoning AES to obtain intermediate values and consequently recover the secret AES key, as well as recovering a secret image by capturing the complete control flow of libjpeg routines. Furthermore, we demonstrate that these attack primitives are effective across virtually all protection boundaries and remain functional in the presence of all recent control-flow mitigations from Intel.