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Say hello to PLATYPUS, the latest CPU security problem

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This kind of PLATYPUS is not a sweet and unusual mammal, this is a security problem recently announced that affects Intel across server, desktop and laptop CPUs. Along with a long list of other Intel issues that went public today (there's like 40 of them…), PLATYPUS is one that's gaining some attention and came with its own fancy website.

PLATYPUS (Power Leakage Attacks: Targeting Your Protected User Secrets) is a way to exploit the unprivileged access to the Intel RAPL (Running Average Power Limit) interface exposing the processor's power consumption to infer data and extract cryptographic keys. Physical access is not required the researchers say, so it's quite a concerning one.

You can check out these two videos they released to explain it a little:

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Here's some more information from the website setup for PLATYPUS:

With classical power side-channel attacks, an attacker typically has physical access to a victim device. Using an oscilloscope, the attacker monitors the energy consumption of the device. With interfaces like Intel RAPL, physical access is not required anymore as the measurements can be accessed directly from software. Previous work already showed limited information leakage caused by the Intel RAPL interface. Mantel et al. showed that it is possible to distinguish if different cryptographic keys have been processed by the CPU. Paiva et al. established a covert channel by modulating the energy consumption of the DRAM.

Our research shows that the Intel RAPL interface can be exploited in way more threatening scenarios. We show that in addition to distinguishing different keys, it is possible to reconstruct entire cryptographic keys. We demonstrate this by recovering AES keys from the side-channel resilient AES-NI implementation, as well as RSA keys from an Intel SGX enclave. In addition, we distinguish different Hamming weights of operands or memory loads, threatening constant-time implementations of cryptographic algorithms. To mitigate PLATYPUS, the unprivileged access to the energy consumption has been revoked with an update to the operating system. With Intel SGX, however, a compromised operating system is within the threat model, rendering this mitigation insufficient. Therefore, Intel released microcode updates that change the way the energy consumption is reported if Intel SGX is enabled on the system. Instead of actual energy measurements, it falls back to a model-based approach, such that same instructions with different data or operands can not be distinguished.

Who is behind PLATYPUS? Various developers at Graz University of Technology, CISPA Helmholtz Center for Information Security and the University of Birmingham including: Moritz Lipp, Michael Schwarz, Andreas Kogler, David Oswald, Catherine Easdon, Claudio Canella and Daniel Gruss.

Are you directly affected? Well it goes all the way back to Sandy Bridge (2011), so have a look at the list of what's affected which can be found here. Intel released microcode updates to affected processors and for Linux there's been security updates to help with it. As always, ensure you're up to date everywhere possible.

The research does mention that other vendors are affected too like AMD from the Zen architecture onwards, but it appears limited to AMD Rome CPUs. ARM and NVIDIA too are possible as they all have these features available but the main testing has been done against Intel for now.

You can read more about PLATYPUS here. See the full Intel Security page for the rest of them.

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About the author -
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I am the owner of GamingOnLinux. After discovering Linux back in the days of Mandrake in 2003, I constantly came back to check on the progress of Linux until Ubuntu appeared on the scene and it helped me to really love it. You can reach me easily by emailing GamingOnLinux directly. Find me on Mastodon.
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dpanter Nov 10, 2020
whizse Nov 10, 2020
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Hell. Handbasket.
setzer22 Nov 10, 2020
Perry the Platypus, you did it again!
RTheren Nov 10, 2020
Quoting: setzer22Perry the Platypus, you did it again!

Where is Dr. Doofenschmitz when you need him?
x_wing Nov 10, 2020
So, now even applications that wants to simply display power consumption will require some kind of privilege and the application by itself will have to be strengthened in order to avoid any possible backdoor. A big F...
Purple Library Guy Nov 10, 2020
Quoting: GuestPlatypi are a myth, they have not be created yet.

Turns out they're also bioluminescent.
Or, um, will be when they're created. Maybe the glow-in-the-dark thing is a byproduct of that production method.

Last edited by Purple Library Guy on 10 November 2020 at 9:55 pm UTC
WorMzy Nov 10, 2020
Hello, Platypus!

Incidentally, the platypus was created by a number of woefully-overconfident wizards trying to teach the creator of the last continent how to paint.

Edit: Shit, sorry, keep forgetting this is roundworld. Don't mind me. Go about your business.

Last edited by WorMzy on 10 November 2020 at 10:11 pm UTC
Ehvis Nov 10, 2020
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It really reads like another one of those theoretical attacks that can be nicely demonstrated under controlled conditions, but have zero chance of succeeding in real world situations. Consider me not worried in the slightest.
slaapliedje Nov 10, 2020
Quoting: Guest
Quoting: Purple Library GuyTurns out they're also bioluminescent.
Or, um, will be when they're created. Maybe the glow-in-the-dark thing is a byproduct of that production method.

I did not know that ! Thanks !

My apologies for drifting so much off-topic.
Speaking of drifting off-topic... I saw a video a while back that was all about some of the ridiculous creatures in Dungeons and Dragons throughout the years....

And now I want to see the specs for a Giant Platypus! I mean all other animals seem to have a 'Giant' version of them... Imagine riding one into battle?
Cyril Nov 11, 2020
Ah shit, here we go again...
But I don't see the Sandy Bridge CPU on that affected list.
It start with the 6th generation, am I wrong?

Last edited by Cyril on 11 November 2020 at 1:47 am UTC
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