Identifying Cache-Based Side Channels through Secret-Augmented Abstract Interpretation


Shuai Wang, HKUST; Yuyan Bao and Xiao Liu, Penn State University; Pei Wang, Baidu X-Lab; Danfeng Zhang and Dinghao Wu, Penn State University


Cache-based side channels enable a dedicated attacker to reveal program secrets by measuring the cache access patterns. Practical attacks have been shown against real-world crypto algorithm implementations such as RSA, AES, and ElGamal. By far, identifying information leaks due to cache-based side channels, either in a static or dynamic manner, remains a challenge: the existing approaches fail to offer high precision, full coverage, and good scalability simultaneously, thus impeding their practical use in real-world scenarios.

In this paper, we propose a novel static analysis method on binaries to detect cache-based side channels. We use abstract interpretation to reason on program states with respect to abstract values at each program point. To make such abstract interpretation scalable to real-world cryptosystems while offering high precision and full coverage, we propose a novel abstract domain called the Secret-Augmented Symbolic domain (SAS). SAS tracks program secrets and dependencies on them for precision, while it tracks only coarse-grained public information for scalability.

We have implemented the proposed technique into a practical tool named CacheS and evaluated it on the implementations of widely-used cryptographic algorithms in real-world crypto libraries, including Libgcrypt, OpenSSL, and mbedTLS. CacheS successfully confirmed a total of 154 information leaks reported by previous research and 54 leaks that were previously unknown. We have reported our findings to the developers. And they confirmed that many of those unknown information leaks do lead to potential side channels.

USENIX Security '19 Open Access Videos Sponsored by
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)

Open Access Media

USENIX is committed to Open Access to the research presented at our events. Papers and proceedings are freely available to everyone once the event begins. Any video, audio, and/or slides that are posted after the event are also free and open to everyone. Support USENIX and our commitment to Open Access.

@inproceedings {236338,
author = {Shuai Wang and Yuyan Bao and Xiao Liu and Pei Wang and Danfeng Zhang and Dinghao Wu},
title = {Identifying {Cache-Based} Side Channels through {Secret-Augmented} Abstract Interpretation},
booktitle = {28th USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 19)},
year = {2019},
isbn = {978-1-939133-06-9},
address = {Santa Clara, CA},
pages = {657--674},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

Presentation Video