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Finding a CPU Originate Worm within the Xbox 360

Finding a CPU Originate Worm within the Xbox 360

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The present display cloak of Meltdown and Spectre stroke a chord in my memory of the time I stumbled on a linked construct malicious program within the Xbox 360 CPU – a newly added instruction whose mere existence modified into as soon as unhealthy.

Support in 2005 I modified into as soon as the Xbox 360 CPU man. I lived and breathed that chip. I quiet possess a 30-cm CPU wafer on my wall, and a four-foot poster of the CPU’s structure. I spent so extra special time working out how that CPU’s pipelines labored that after I modified into as soon as requested to study some very unlikely crashes I modified into as soon as in a accumulate to intuit how a construct malicious program need to be their motive. But first, some background…

Annotated Xbox 360 dieThe Xbox 360 CPU is a Three-core PowerPC chip made by IBM. The three cores sit down in three separate quadrants with the fourth quadrant containing a 1-MB L2 cache – it’s seemingly you’ll maybe also judge the varied ingredients, within the image at precise and on my CPU wafer. Every core has a 32-KB instruction cache and a 32-KB knowledge cache.

Trivia: Core 0 modified into as soon as closer to the L2 cache and had measurably lower L2 latencies.

The Xbox 360 CPU had high latencies for the total lot, with memory latencies being in particular immoral. And, the 1-MB L2 cache (all that could fit) modified into as soon as sharp runt for a Three-core CPU. So, conserving home within the L2 cache in screech to lower cache misses modified into as soon as crucial.

CPU caches enhance performance ensuing from spatial and temporal locality. Spatial locality plan that if you’ve frail one byte of files then you definately’ll potentially employ various nearby bytes of files soon. Temporal locality plan that if you’ve frail some memory then you definately will potentially employ it all all over again within the come future.

But in most cases temporal locality doesn’t genuinely occur. While you occur to is vulnerable to be processing an excellent array of files as soon as-per-body then it could also very successfully be trivially provable that this could all be gone from the L2 cache by the time you’d like it all all over again. You quiet desire that knowledge within the L1 cache so that it’s seemingly you’ll maybe also succor from spatial locality, nonetheless having it ingesting precious home within the L2 cache correct plan this could evict various knowledge, most definitely slowing down the varied two cores.

Usually here’s unavoidable. The memory coherency mechanism of our PowerPC CPU required that every knowledge within the L1 caches furthermore be within the L2 cache. The MESI protocol frail for memory coherency requires that as soon as one core writes to a cache line that any various cores with a reproduction of the same cache line need to discard it – and the L2 cache modified into as soon as guilty for conserving discover of which L1 caches were caching which addresses.

About Forty cores on my wafer, L2 caches consideredBut, the CPU modified into as soon as for a video game console and performance trumped all so a brand new instruction modified into as soon as added – xdcbt. The identical old PowerPC dcbt instruction modified into as soon as a recurring prefetch instruction. The xdcbt instruction modified into as soon as an extended prefetch instruction that fetched straight from memory to the L1 d-cache, skipping L2. This intended that memory coherency modified into as soon as no longer assured, nonetheless whats up, we’re video game programmers, we know what we’re doing, this could be gorgeous.


I wrote a widely-frail Xbox 360 memory reproduction routine that optionally frail xdcbt. Prefetching the source knowledge modified into as soon as an crucial for performance and in total it could employ dcbt nonetheless pass within the PREFETCH_EX flag and it could prefetch with xdcbt. This modified into as soon as no longer successfully-thought-out.

A game developer who modified into as soon as the employ of this characteristic reported uncommon crashes – heap corruption crashes, nonetheless the heap buildings within the memory dumps regarded identical old. After observing the smash dumps for awhile I noticed what a mistake I had made.

Memory that is prefetched with xdcbt is toxic. Whether it’s miles written by one other core sooner than being flushed from L1 then two cores possess various views of memory and there is rarely any guarantee their views will ever converge. The Xbox 360 cache lines were 128 bytes and my reproduction routine’s prefetching went precise to the end of the source memory, which plan that xdcbt modified into as soon as utilized to a pair of cache lines whose latter parts were phase of adjacent knowledge buildings. Most often this modified into as soon as heap metadata – no longer lower than that’s where we noticed the crashes. The incoherent core noticed worn knowledge (despite careful employ of locks), and crashed, nonetheless the smash dump wrote out the exact contents of RAM so that we couldn’t judge what came about.

So, the easiest secure blueprint to employ xdcbt modified into as soon as to be very careful no longer to prefetch even a single byte beyond the end of the buffer. I fastened my memory reproduction routine to steer clear of prefetching too a long way, nonetheless whereas looking forward to the fix the sport developer stopped passing the PREFETCH_EX flag and the crashes went away.

The explicit malicious program

To this level so identical old, precise? Cocky game builders play with fireplace, soar too shut to the solar, marry their moms, and a game console nearly misses Christmas.

But, we caught it in time, we obtained away with it, and we were all space to ship the games and the console and poke home satisfied.

After which the same game started crashing all all over again.

The signs were linked. Apart from that the sport modified into as soon as no longer the employ of the xdcbt instruction. I could step by the code and judge that. We had a excessive field.

I frail the mature debugging methodology of observing my display cloak with a blank mind, let the CPU pipelines absorb my subconscious, and I without discover realized the field. A immediate email to IBM confirmed my suspicion a pair of subtle inside CPU detail that I had by no plan thought of sooner than. And it’s the same offender on the abet of Meltdown and Spectre.

The Xbox 360 CPU is an in-screech CPU. It’s sharp easy in actuality, counting on its high frequency (no longer as high as hoped despite 10 FO4) for performance. But it does possess a branch predictor – its very long pipelines construct that critical. Right here’s a publicly shared CPU pipeline design I made (my cycle-prison model is NDA finest, nonetheless looky here) that shows all of the pipelines:


It is seemingly you’ll maybe presumably judge the branch predictor, and likewise it’s seemingly you’ll maybe also judge that the pipelines are very long (wide on the design) – heaps long enough for mispredicted instructions to face as much as bustle, even with in-screech processing.

So, the branch predictor makes a prediction and the predicted instructions are fetched, decoded, and done – nonetheless no longer retired until the prediction is identified to be good. Sound acquainted? The conclusion I had – it modified into as soon as new to me on the time – modified into as soon as what it intended to speculatively attain a prefetch. The latencies were long, so it modified into as soon as crucial to win the prefetch transaction on the bus as soon as that it’s seemingly you’ll maybe also imagine, and as soon as a prefetch had been initiated there modified into as soon as no blueprint to assassinate it. So a speculatively-done xdcbt modified into as soon as linked to a exact xdcbt! (a speculatively-done load instruction modified into as soon as correct a prefetch, FWIW).

And that modified into as soon as the field – the branch predictor would in most cases motive xdcbt instructions to be speculatively done and that modified into as soon as correct as immoral as in actuality executing them. One in every of my coworkers (thanks Tracy!) advised a artful test to verify this – change every xdcbt within the sport with a breakpoint. This carried out two issues:

  1. The breakpoints were no longer hit, thus proving that the sport modified into as soon as no longer executing xdcbt instructions.
  2. The crashes went away.

I knew that could be the final result and yet it modified into as soon as quiet extra special. All these years later, and even after studying about Meltdown, it’s quiet nerdy frigid to evaluate solid proof that instructions that were no longer done were inflicting crashes.

The branch predictor realization made it certain that this instruction modified into as soon as too unhealthy to possess anywhere within the code section of any game – controlling when an instruction can even very successfully be speculatively done is too advanced. The branch predictor for oblique branches could, theoretically, predict any cope with, so there modified into as soon as no “secure space” to assign an xdcbt instruction. And, if speculatively done it could fortunately kind a long prefetch of whatever memory the specified registers came about to randomly have. It modified into as soon as that it’s seemingly you’ll maybe also imagine to lower the probability, nonetheless no longer accumulate away with it, and it correct wasn’t charge it. While Xbox 360 structure discussions proceed to mention the instruction I doubt that any games ever shipped with it.

I talked about this as soon as all over a job interview – “picture the toughest malicious program you’ve needed to study” – and the interviewer’s response modified into as soon as “yeah, we hit something linked on the Alpha processor”. The more issues trade…

Thanks to Michael for some editing.

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