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Date:   Fri, 10 May 2019 20:15:01 -0700
From:   Randy Dunlap <>
To:     Nadav Amit <>,
Cc:     Borislav Petkov <>,,
        Andy Lutomirsky <>,
        Ingo Molnar <>,
        Peter Zijlstra <>,
        Thomas Gleixner <>,
        Jann Horn <>
Subject: Re: [RFC] x86: Speculative execution warnings

On 5/10/19 12:25 PM, Nadav Amit wrote:
> It may be useful to check in runtime whether certain assertions are
> violated even during speculative execution. This can allow to avoid
> adding unnecessary memory fences and at the same time check that no data
> leak channels exist.
> For example, adding such checks can show that allocating zeroed pages
> can return speculatively non-zeroed pages (the first qword is not
> zero).  [This might be a problem when the page-fault handler performs
> software page-walk, for example.]
> Introduce SPEC_WARN_ON(), which checks in runtime whether a certain
> condition is violated during speculative execution. The condition should
> be computed without branches, e.g., using bitwise operators. The check
> will wait for the condition to be realized (i.e., not speculated), and
> if the assertion is violated, a warning will be thrown.
> Warnings can be provided in one of two modes: precise and imprecise.
> Both mode are not perfect. The precise mode does not always make it easy
> to understand which assertion was broken, but instead points to a point
> in the execution somewhere around the point in which the assertion was
> violated.  In addition, it prints a warning for each violation (unlike
> WARN_ONCE() like behavior).
> The imprecise mode, on the other hand, can sometimes throw the wrong
> indication, specifically if the control flow has changed between the
> speculative execution and the actual one. Note that it is not a
> false-positive, it just means that the output would mislead the user to
> think the wrong assertion was broken.
> There are some more limitations. Since the mechanism requires an
> indirect branch, it should not be used in production systems that are
> susceptible for Spectre v2. The mechanism requires TSX and performance
> counters that are only available in skylake+. There is a hidden
> assumption that TSX is not used in the kernel for anything else, other
> than this mechanism.
> The basic idea behind the implementation is to use a performance counter
> that updates also during speculative execution as an indication for
> assertion failure. By using conditional-mov, which is not predicted,
> to affect the control flow, the condition is realized before the event
> that affects the PMU is triggered.
> Enable this feature by setting "spec_warn=on" or "spec_warn=precise"
> kernel parameter. I did not run performance numbers but I guess the
> overhead should not be too high.

If this progresses, please document spec_warn={on|precise} in

> I did not run too many tests, but brief experiments suggest that it does
> work. Let me know if I missed anything and whether you think this can be
> useful. To be frank, the exact use cases are not super clear, and there
> are various possible extensions (e.g., ensuring the speculation window
> is long enough by adding data dependencies). I would appreciate your
> inputs.
> Cc: Andy Lutomirsky <>
> Cc: Ingo Molnar <>
> Cc: Peter Zijlstra <>
> Cc: Thomas Gleixner <>
> Cc: Jann Horn <>
> Signed-off-by: Nadav Amit <>
> ---
>  arch/x86/Kconfig                     |   4 +
>  arch/x86/include/asm/nospec-branch.h |  30 +++++
>  arch/x86/kernel/Makefile             |   1 +
>  arch/x86/kernel/nospec.c             | 185 +++++++++++++++++++++++++++
>  4 files changed, 220 insertions(+)
>  create mode 100644 arch/x86/kernel/nospec.c


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