Mill Computing, Inc. Forums The Mill Architecture Performance counters Reply To: Performance counters

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I disagree. While measuring performance is important, I think that too fine-grained performance counters should be unavailable to unprivileged user programs for security reasons.

There has been a lot of talk on the CPU-level vulnerabilities Spectre and Meltdown this past year. Those consist of two components: first the use of speculation to access secrets and second the use of side-channels to exfiltrate the secrets to a receiver. The side-channels in question use timing of memory accesses to find cache hits and misses. Now, we all know that The Mill is impervious to Spectre and Meltdown because it stops the access because it does not have speculative execution (except as explicit instructions put there by the compiler..), but there are many other types of CPU-level attacks out there that have variations of the second: side-channels that depend on precise timing.
Among these are various attacks that monitor the CPU time and memory use of other processes to determine what they do: for instance for sniffing password prompts and monitoring encryption algorithms to reduce the search space for encryption keys.
Having fine-grained timing privileged does not make it impossible to conduct all types of side-channel attacks, but it could make some attacks significantly harder to pull off.