On the effectiveness of mitigations against floating-point timing channels


David Kohlbrenner and Hovav Shacham, UC San Diego


The duration of floating-point instructions is a known timing side channel that has been used to break Same-Origin Policy (SOP) privacy on Mozilla Firefox and the Fuzz differentially private database. Several defenses have been proposed to mitigate these attacks.

We present detailed benchmarking of floating point performance for various operations based on operand values. We identify families of values that induce slow and fast paths beyond the classes (normal, subnormal, etc.) considered in previous work, and note that different processors exhibit different timing behavior.

We evaluate the efficacy of the defenses deployed (or not) in Web browsers to floating point side channel attacks on SVG filters. We find that Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Appleā€™s Safari have insufficiently addressed the floating-point side channel, and we present attacks for each that extract pixel data cross-origin on most platforms.

We evaluate the vector-operation based defensive mechanism proposed at USENIX Security 2016 by Rane, Lin and Tiwari and find that it only reduces, not eliminates, the floating-point side channel signal.

Together, these measurements and attacks cause us to conclude that floating point is simply too variable to use in a timing security sensitive context.

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@inproceedings {203686,
author = {David Kohlbrenner and Hovav Shacham},
title = {On the effectiveness of mitigations against floating-point timing channels},
booktitle = {26th USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 17)},
year = {2017},
isbn = {978-1-931971-40-9},
address = {Vancouver, BC},
pages = {69--81},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity17/technical-sessions/presentation/kohlbrenner},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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