MIRAGE: Mitigating Conflict-Based Cache Attacks with a Practical Fully-Associative Design


Gururaj Saileshwar and Moinuddin Qureshi, Georgia Institute of Technology


Shared caches in processors are vulnerable to conflict-based side-channel attacks, whereby an attacker can monitor the access pattern of a victim by evicting victim cache lines using cache-set conflicts. Recent mitigations propose randomized mapping of addresses to cache lines, to obfuscate the locations of set-conflicts. However, these are vulnerable to newer attack algorithms that discover conflicting sets of addresses despite such mitigations, because these designs select candidates for eviction from a small set of conflicting lines.

This paper presents Mirage, a practical design for a fully associative cache, wherein eviction candidates are selected randomly from among all the lines resident in the cache, to be immune to set-conflicts. A key challenge in enabling such a design for large shared caches (containing tens of thousands of resident cache lines) is managing the complexity of cache-lookup, as a naive design can require searching through all the resident lines. Mirage achieves full-associativity while retaining practical set-associative lookups by decoupling placement and replacement, using pointer-based indirection from tag-store to data-store to allow a newly installed address to globally evict the data of any random resident line. To eliminate set-conflicts, Mirage provisions extra invalid tags in a skewed-associative tag-store design where lines can be installed without set-conflict, along with a load-aware skew-selection policy that guarantees the availability of sets with invalid tags. Our analysis shows Mirage provides the global eviction property of a fully-associative cache throughout system lifetime (violations of full-associativity, i.e. set-conflicts, occur less than once in 10^4 to 10^17 years), thus offering a principled defense against any eviction-set discovery and any potential conflict based attacks. Mirage incurs limited slowdown (2%) and 17– 20% extra storage compared to a non-secure cache.

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@inproceedings {272278,
author = {Gururaj Saileshwar and Moinuddin Qureshi},
title = {{MIRAGE}: Mitigating {Conflict-Based} Cache Attacks with a Practical {Fully-Associative} Design},
booktitle = {30th USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 21)},
year = {2021},
isbn = {978-1-939133-24-3},
pages = {1379--1396},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity21/presentation/saileshwar},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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