A year with Spectre: a V8 perspective
In theory, it would be sufficient to defeat either of the two components of an attack. Since we do not know of any way to defeat any of the parts perfectly, we designed and deployed mitigations that greatly reduce the amount of information that is leaked into CPU caches and mitigations that make it hard to recover the hidden state.
Fortunately or unfortunately, our offensive research advanced much faster than our defensive research, and we quickly discovered that software mitigation of all possible leaks due to Spectre was infeasible. This was due to a variety of reasons. First, the engineering effort diverted to combating Spectre was disproportionate to its threat level. In V8 we face many other security threats that are much worse, from direct out-of-bound reads due to regular bugs (faster and more direct than Spectre), out-of-bound writes (impossible with Spectre, and worse) and potential remote code execution (impossible with Spectre and much, much worse). Second, the increasingly complicated mitigations that we designed and implemented carried significant complexity, which is technical debt and might actually increase the attack surface, and performance overheads. Third, testing and maintaining mitigations for microarchitectural leaks is even trickier than designing gadgets themselves, since it’s hard to be sure the mitigations continue working as designed. At least once, important mitigations were effectively undone by later compiler optimizations. Fourth, we found that effective mitigation of some variants of Spectre, particularly variant 4, to be simply infeasible in software, even after a heroic effort by our partners at Apple to combat the problem in their JIT compiler.