Mill Computing, Inc. Forums The Mill Architecture How similar is Mill access protection to CHERI? Reply To: How similar is Mill access protection to CHERI?

Findecanor
Participant
Post count: 19

I’ve been following CHERI too for a while… and I would say: not similar at all.

I think the article you linked to is all over the place. Let me summarise:
CHERI has tagged memory and “capabilities” on top of ARM/MIPS/RISC-V’s traditional paging. Each memory address is tagged to tell if it contains a “capability” (address, upper bound, protection bits) or regular data. Capabilities are used as pointers, but each memory access using one is bounds-checked and checked for privilege (read/write/execute). The tags are stored in separate memory areas instead of in a special bit in 9-bit bytes (which is what historic capability hardware did) — this makes it possible to use off-the-shelf DRAM, and traditional OS’es with only small modifications, with one address space per process as usual.

What this does in practice is adding bounds-checking to C/C++ programs, requiring only a recompile instead of having to be rewritten in a properly type-safe, memory-safe language.
Temporal safety (protection against dangling pointers) needs a system or kernel service similar to a garbage collector though, and the overhead is not negligible.

In particular they mentioned that their capabilities system makes it safe to run everything in one address space and this makes it possible to get speed ups from avoiding context switches.

I think they mean that CHERI reduces the need to break up a program into multiple isolated processes (a type of “compartmentalisation”) to achieve better security, which is how e.g. Chrome (and web browsers based on it) are designed.
So far, I’ve not seen any paper about using CHERI instead of the protection offered by traditional paging with protection but I’m sure that would be possible, and that is something that historic systems did.

What (I got the impression that) The Mill does is to put all programs in the same address range, but not in the same protection domain. Protection is decoupled from paging. I’d think that a Unix-like system on The Mill would work largely the same as on other hardware just that the memory layout inside each process would not overlap that of any other process (except for shared objects).
The Mill does have fine-grained address ranges, and support revocation so that it would be feasible to temporarily pass access to individual objects in a Portal call instead of sharing full pages like on other hardware. Revocation in the capability model can get complex and expensive, and I think that this in CHERI would also require a service scheme such as with dangling pointers.

  • This reply was modified 3 months, 3 weeks ago by  Findecanor.
  • This reply was modified 3 months, 3 weeks ago by  Findecanor.
  • This reply was modified 3 months, 3 weeks ago by  Findecanor.