Cached: Identifying cache-based timing channels in production software

Shuai Wang, Pei Wang, Xiao Liu, Danfeng Zhang, Dinghao Wu

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

90 Scopus citations


Side-channel attacks recover secret information by analyzing the physical implementation of cryptosystems based on non-functional computational characteristics, e.g. time, power, and memory usage. Among all well-known side channels, cache-based timing channels are notoriously severe, leading to practical attacks against certain implementations of theoretically secure crypto algorithms, such as RSA, ElGamal and AES. Such attacks target the hierarchical design of the modern computer memory system, where different memory access patterns of a program can bring observable timing difference. In this work, we propose a novel technique to help software developers identify potential vulnerabilities that can lead to cache-based timing attacks. Our technique leverages symbolic execution and constraint solving to detect potential cache differences at each program point. We adopt a cache model that is general enough to capture various threat models that are employed in practical timing attacks. Our modeling and analysis are based on the formulation of cache access at different program locations along execution traces. We have implemented the proposed technique as a practical tool named CacheD (Cache Difference), and evaluated CacheD towards multiple real-world cryptosystems. CacheD takes less than 17 CPU hours to analyze 9 widely used cryptographic algorithm implementations with over 120 million instructions in total. The evaluation results show that our technique can accurately identify vulnerabilities reported by previous research. Moreover, we have successfully discovered previously unknown issues in two widely used cryptosystems, OpenSSL and Botan.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 26th USENIX Security Symposium
PublisherUSENIX Association
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781931971409
StatePublished - 2017
Event26th USENIX Security Symposium - Vancouver, Canada
Duration: Aug 16 2017Aug 18 2017

Publication series

NameProceedings of the 26th USENIX Security Symposium


Conference26th USENIX Security Symposium

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality


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