AIDRC Seminar Series - Prof. Frank Piessens

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Frank Piessens

Prof. Frank Piessens

KU Leuven

8th March 2023, 04:00pm – 05:00pm (GST)



Transient execution attacks and defenses


Transient execution attacks are a relatively young but powerful and interesting class of attacks against software running on shared platforms, for instance, on the cloud. These attacks exploit advanced processor implementation techniques, like out-of-order and speculative execution, to leak information across architectural protection boundaries. In this talk, we will first provide a gentle introduction to transient execution attacks, based on a simplified processor model. Next, we will discuss defenses. A key challenge is achieving strong security guarantees without giving up on the performance benefits that out-of-order and speculative execution offer. We will discuss a specific class of defenses that achieves a good security/performance trade-off by means of a combination of software and hardware countermeasures.


Frank Piessens is a full professor in the Department of Computer Science at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium. His research field is software and systems security. He has worked both on attack techniques, as well as on defenses. On the defense side, he has contributed to verification techniques for C-like languages, the enforcement of information flow security, countermeasures for memory safety related vulnerabilities, and the design and implementation of embedded security architectures. On the attack side, he has contributed to the discovery of several transient execution attacks, and to the development of exploitation techniques for memory safety vulnerabilities. Frank has served on the program committee of numerous security and software conferences including ACM CCS, Usenix Security, IEEE Security & Privacy, and ACM POPL. He acted as program chair for the International Conference on Principles of Security and Trust (POST 2016), for the IEEE European Symposium on Security & Privacy (Euro S&P 2018 & 2019), and for the IEEE Secure Development Conference (SecDev 2021 & 2022).