Comparative Measurement of Cache Configurations’ Impacts on Cache Timing Side-Channel Attacks


Xiaodong Yu, Ya Xiao, Kirk Cameron, and Danfeng (Daphne) Yao, Department of Computer Science, Virginia Tech

Long Research Paper


Time-driven and access-driven attacks are two dominant types of the timing-based cache side-channel attacks. Despite access-driven attacks are popular in recent years, investigating the time-driven attacks is still worth the effort. It is because, in contrast to the access-driven attacks, time-driven attacks are independent of the attackers’ cache access privilege.

Although cache configurations can impact the time-driven attacks’ performance, it is unclear how different cache parameters influence the attacks’ success rates. This question remains open because it is extremely difficult to conduct comparative measurements. The difficulty comes from the unavailability of the configurable caches in existing CPU products.

In this paper, we utilize the GEM5 platform to measure the impacts of different cache parameters, including Private Cache Size and Associativity, Shared Cache Size and Associativity, Cacheline Size, Replacement Policy, and Clusivity. In order to make the time-driven attacks comparable, we define the equivalent key length (EKL) to describe the attacks’ success rates. Key findings from the measurement results include (i) private cache has a key effect on the attacks’ success rates; (ii) changing shared cache has a trivial effect on the success rates, but adding neighbor processes can make the effect significant; (iii) the Random replacement policy leads to the highest success rates while the LRU/LFU are the other way around; (iv) the exclusive policy makes the attacks harder to succeed compared to the inclusive policy. We finally leverage these findings to provide suggestions to the attackers and defenders as well as the future system designers.

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@inproceedings {238246,
author = {Xiaodong Yu and Ya Xiao and Kirk Cameron and Danfeng (Daphne) Yao},
title = {Comparative Measurement of Cache {Configurations{\textquoteright}} Impacts on Cache Timing {Side-Channel} Attacks},
booktitle = {12th USENIX Workshop on Cyber Security Experimentation and Test (CSET 19)},
year = {2019},
address = {Santa Clara, CA},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug,