Published: Sun, January 14, 2018
Industry | By Dora Warner

Google Reveals How it Protected Gmail from Spectre and Meltdown

Google Reveals How it Protected Gmail from Spectre and Meltdown

Considering the scope and impact of Meltdown and Spectre, we expect we'll be talking about about the exploits and mitigation measures for a while.

Intel is quietly advising some customers to hold off installing patches that address new security flaws affecting virtually all of its processors. "We are patching the CPU vulnerability the same way that Amazon, the same way that SAP, the same way that Microsoft, etc is patching because we have software as well", said Huang.

The Meltdown and Spectre patches that Intel have so far released apparently do more than just degrade the speed of machines, though.

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In the fallout of the discovery of Spectre and Meltdown, companies have been racing to patch vulnerabilities.

Google along with researchers from several academic institutions last week disclosed three severe weaknesses in a performance optimization technique used by most modern processors from Intel, Arm and Advanced Micro Devices.

Google was able to create and deploy fixes for one variant of Meltdown and the only variant of Spectre, but the second version of Meltdown stumped the company's engineers.

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For some time, Google says "it appeared that disabling the vulnerable CPU features would be the only option for protecting all our workloads against Variant 2". He says that "impact on performance varies widely" and that the company is committed to laying out progress reports and performance data like the results we reported on yesterday.

Eventually, Google took a "moonshot" approach to solving the problem and turned up with Retpoline, a solution that "modifies programs to ensure that execution can not be influenced by an attacker".

Meltdown, Google explains, "breaks the most fundamental isolation between user applications and the operating system". Being the obvious solution, Retpoline was deployed across Google's infrastructure and shared with others.

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Without anything to lose, Google looked into "moonshot" solutions and ended up devising Retpoline, a software-only solution that avoided any hardware change and caused "almost no performance loss".

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