Melt Kings Secret

Learning Objectives

The learning objectives for Melt Kings Secret are:

  • Learn about the underlying vulnerabilities involved in spectre & meltdown
  • Start questioning assumptions when developing a program

Melt King’s Secret #

The king of Systems Programming is about to retire and impressed by your talent as the Duke of P=NP wanted you to take over the iron throne. However, the hand of the king convinced him that you lack security white-hat / black-hat skills and has thus created a fail proof system for you to crack. If you fail to uncover the kings secret, the hand of the king becomes the de-facto ruler and will sentence you to the nights watch.

Royal System #

The architecture of the system is based on CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computing) and takes a command and its type as input on each line. The commands are static while the types can change The following are the list of commands available:

    Loads the key associated with the value inside the main memory. 
    The VALUE is either "duke" or "kingsSecret". 
    [*] is an optional number used to load only a specific character from the key.   
    Update the cache with the key loaded inside the main memory. 
    [*] is an optional number used to load the first character from key inside the specfic location / address. 
    [MEM] is another optional which takes the first character loaded from key and acts as a location.
    Print all the cache locations and its values. You can substitute CACHE with CACHE-TIME to see the time taken to load 
    a particular location inside the cache. 
    [*] is optional number which is used to print the specific location of the cache.   
    Clear the main memory and the cache. 
    Shut down the system. 
  • Possible values for key: a-z
  • Size of the cache: 26
  • You have access to the key for value: duke.

Lets try to retrieve the key for value duke:

LOAD duke

Make sure you get familiar with all the commands and how to use them.

Requirement #

You need to find the key associated with the value kingsSecret. This requires privileged access as being equivalent to be stored inside kernel memory. Create a file secret.txt and add the kingsSecret to it. Also, add the final list of commands that you used to hack the system.

Meltdown #

The hand being happy with king’s decision decided to impress him further. He did so by adding out-of-order execution or branch prediction to the processor underneath the system. Essentially what that means is given an instruction, why wait for it to fully pass through the processor pipeline while the other instruction can start simultaneously. The same idea does not just apply to the next instruction but applies jumping to any instruction inside the code. If there is an error, the state of the code and memory will go back to where the issue happened thus preserving the integrity. The following will enable this functionality inside the royal system:

    You can execute commands within start and end block asynchronously. The commands 
    will only start executing after the EXECUTE END.

Note: All modern processors by default use out of order execution for optimization and is not dependant on user code for it.

Hack #

As the state of the memory is reverted, you cannot read values from privileged locations but in combination with cache-timing, you can exploit this. This vulnerability in most modern processors allows user programs to read kernal memory (Meltdown) and also read memory of other user programs (Spectre).

Can you frame a similar exploit for the royal system and read the kingsSecret?


  • Understand what each command does and observe what happens when you access the kingsSecret
  • Try the EXECUTE block of commands with the duke and see how it functions
  • Is the output always going to be deterministic when you devise your hack?

More #


Submission Instructions #

Please read details on Academic Integrity fully. These are shared by all assignments in CS 241.

We will be using GitHub as our hand-in system this semester. Our grading system will checkout your most recent (pre-deadline) commit for grading. Therefore, to hand in your code, all you have to do is commit and push to your Github repository.

To check out the provided code for assignments-meltdown from the class repository, go to your cs241 directory (the one you checked out for “know your tools”) and run:

git pull release master

If you run ls you will now see a assignments-meltdown folder, where you can find this assignment! To commit your changes (send them to us), type:

git add assignments-meltdown
git commit -m "assignments-meltdown submission"
git push origin master

Your repository directory can be viewed from a web browser from the following URL: where NETID is your University NetID. It is important to check that the files you expect to be graded are present and up to date in your remote git copy.

Assignment Feedback #

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This is the form we will use to evaluate our assignments. We appreciate the time you take to give us your honest feedback and we promise to keep improving the course to make your experience in CS 241 the best it can be.