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+This document explains potential effects of speculation, and how undesirable
+effects can be mitigated portably using common APIs.
+
+===========
+Speculation
+===========
+
+To improve performance and minimize average latencies, many contemporary CPUs
+employ speculative execution techniques such as branch prediction, performing
+work which may be discarded at a later stage.
+
+Typically speculative execution cannot be observed from architectural state,
+such as the contents of registers. However, in some cases it is possible to
+observe its impact on microarchitectural state, such as the presence or
+absence of data in caches. Such state may form side-channels which can be
+observed to extract secret information.
+
+For example, in the presence of branch prediction, it is possible for bounds
+checks to be ignored by code which is speculatively executed. Consider the
+following code:
+
+ int load_array(int *array, unsigned int index)
+ {
+ if (index >= MAX_ARRAY_ELEMS)
+ return 0;
+ else
+ return array[index];
+ }
+
+Which, on arm64, may be compiled to an assembly sequence such as:
+
+ CMP <index>, #MAX_ARRAY_ELEMS
+ B.LT less
+ MOV <returnval>, #0
+ RET
+ less:
+ LDR <returnval>, [<array>, <index>]
+ RET
+
+It is possible that a CPU mis-predicts the conditional branch, and
+speculatively loads array[index], even if index >= MAX_ARRAY_ELEMS. This
+value will subsequently be discarded, but the speculated load may affect
+microarchitectural state which can be subsequently measured.
+
+More complex sequences involving multiple dependent memory accesses may
+result in sensitive information being leaked. Consider the following
+code, building on the prior example:
+
+ int load_dependent_arrays(int *arr1, int *arr2, int index)
+ {
+ int val1, val2,
+
+ val1 = load_array(arr1, index);
+ val2 = load_array(arr2, val1);
+
+ return val2;
+ }
+
+Under speculation, the first call to load_array() may return the value
+of an out-of-bounds address, while the second call will influence
+microarchitectural state dependent on this value. This may provide an
+arbitrary read primitive.
+
+====================================
+Mitigating speculation side-channels
+====================================
+
+The kernel provides a generic API to ensure that bounds checks are
+respected even under speculation. Architectures which are affected by
+speculation-based side-channels are expected to implement these
+primitives.
+
+The array_index_nospec() helper in <linux/nospec.h> can be used to
+prevent information from being leaked via side-channels.
+
+A call to array_index_nospec(index, size) returns a sanitized index
+value that is bounded to [0, size) even under cpu speculation
+conditions.
+
+This can be used to protect the earlier load_array() example:
+
+ int load_array(int *array, unsigned int index)
+ {
+ if (index >= MAX_ARRAY_ELEMS)
+ return 0;
+ else {
+ index = array_index_nospec(index, MAX_ARRAY_ELEMS);
+ return array[index];
+ }
+ }