Google Research

Reconciling Optimization With Secure Compilation

  • Son Tuan Vu
  • Albert Cohen
  • Arnaud De Grandmaison
  • Christophe Guillon
  • Karine Heydemann
Proceedings of the ACM (PACMPL) (2021)


Software protections against side-channel and physical attacks are essential to the development of secure applications. Such protections are meaningful at machine code or micro-architectural level, but they typically do not carry observable semantics at source level. This renders them susceptible to miscompilation, and security engineers embed input/output side-effects to prevent optimizing compilers from altering them. Yet these side-effects are error-prone and compiler-dependent. The current practice involves analyzing the generated machine code to make sure security or privacy properties are still enforced. They may also be too expensive in fine-grained protections such as control-flow integrity. We introduce observations of the program state that are intrinsic to the correct execution of security protections, along with means to specify and preserve observations across the compilation flow. Such observations complement the input/output semantics-preservation contract of compilers. We introduce an opacification mechanism to preserve and enforce a partial ordering of observations. This approach is compatible with a production compiler and does not incur any modification to its optimization passes. We validate the effectiveness and performance of our approach on a range of benchmarks, expressing the secure compilation of these applications in terms of observations to be made at specific program points.

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