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Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2018 02:04:17 +0300
From: Liran Alon <>
To: David Woodhouse <>
Cc: Linus Torvalds <>,
        Konrad Rzeszutek Wilk <>,,,
        Jim Mattson <>,
        Andrew Cooper <>,
        Linux Kernel Mailing List <>,
        Boris Ostrovsky <>,
        linux-mm <>, Thomas Gleixner <>,
        Joao Martins <>,,
        Andi Kleen <>, Khalid Aziz <>,, Kees Cook <>,,
        Kernel Hardening <>,, Tyler Hicks <>,
        John Haxby <>, Jon Masters <>,
        Paolo Bonzini <>
Subject: Re: Redoing eXclusive Page Frame Ownership (XPFO) with isolated CPUs
 in mind (for KVM to isolate its guests per CPU)

> On 21 Aug 2018, at 17:22, David Woodhouse <> wrote:
> On Tue, 2018-08-21 at 17:01 +0300, Liran Alon wrote:
>>> On 21 Aug 2018, at 12:57, David Woodhouse <>
>> wrote:
>>> Another alternative... I'm told POWER8 does an interesting thing
>> with
>>> hyperthreading and gang scheduling for KVM. The host kernel doesn't
>>> actually *see* the hyperthreads at all, and KVM just launches the
>> full
>>> set of siblings when it enters a guest, and gathers them again when
>> any
>>> of them exits. That's definitely worth investigating as an option
>> for
>>> x86, too.
>> I actually think that such scheduling mechanism which prevents
>> leaking cache entries to sibling hyperthreads should co-exist
>> together with the KVM address space isolation to fully mitigate L1TF
>> and other similar vulnerabilities. The address space isolation should
>> prevent VMExit handlers code gadgets from loading arbitrary host
>> memory to the cache. Once VMExit code path switches to full host
>> address space, then we should also make sure that no other sibling
>> hyprethread is running in the guest.
> The KVM POWER8 solution (see arch/powerpc/kvm/book3s_hv.c) does that.
> The siblings are *never* running host kernel code; they're all torn
> down when any of them exits the guest. And it's always the *same*
> guest.

I wasn’t aware of this KVM Power8 mechanism. Thanks for the pointer.
(371fefd6f2dc ("KVM: PPC: Allow book3s_hv guests to use SMT processor modes”))

Note though that my point regarding the co-existence of the isolated address space together with such scheduling mechanism is still valid.
The scheduling mechanism should not be seen as an alternative to the isolated address space if we wish to reduce the frequency of events
in which we need to kick sibling hyperthreads from guest.

>> Focusing on the scheduling mechanism, we must make sure that when a
>> logical processor runs guest code, all siblings logical processors
>> must run code which do not populate L1D cache with information
>> unrelated to this VM. This includes forbidding one logical processor
>> to run guest code while sibling is running a host task such as a NIC
>> interrupt handler.
>> Thus, when a vCPU thread exits the guest into the host and VMExit
>> handler reaches code flow which could populate L1D cache with this
>> information, we should force an exit from the guest of the siblings
>> logical processors, such that they will be allowed to resume only on
>> a core which we can promise that the L1D cache is free from
>> information unrelated to this VM.
>> At first, I have created a patch series which attempts to implement
>> such mechanism in KVM. However, it became clear to me that this may
>> need to be implemented in the scheduler itself. This is because:
>> 1. It is difficult to handle all new scheduling contrains only in
>> KVM.
>> 2. This mechanism should be relevant for any Type-2 hypervisor which
>> runs inside Linux besides KVM (Such as VMware Workstation or
>> VirtualBox).
>> 3. This mechanism could also be used to prevent future “core-cache-
>> leaking” vulnerabilities to be exploited between processes of
>> different security domains which run as siblings on the same core.
> I'm not sure I agree. If KVM is handling "only let siblings run the
> *same* guest" and the siblings aren't visible to the host at all,
> that's quite simple. Any other hypervisor can also do it.
> Now, the down-side of this is that the siblings aren't visible to the
> host. They can't be used to run multiple threads of the same userspace
> processes; only multiple threads of the same KVM guest. A truly generic
> core scheduler would cope with userspace threads too.
> BUT I strongly suspect there's a huge correlation between the set of
> people who care enough about the KVM/L1TF issue to enable a costly
> XFPO-like solution, and the set of people who mostly don't give a shit
> about having sibling CPUs available to run the host's userspace anyway.
> This is not the "I happen to run a Windows VM on my Linux desktop" use
> case...

If I understand your proposal correctly, you suggest to do something similar to the KVM Power8 solution:
1. Disable HyperThreading for use by host user space.
2. Use sibling hyperthreads only in KVM and schedule group of vCPUs that run on a single core as a “gang” to enter and exit guest together.

This solution may work well for KVM-based cloud providers that match the following criteria:
1. All compute instances run with SR-IOV and IOMMU Posted-Interrupts.
2. Configure affinity such that host dedicate distinct set of physical cores per guest. No physical core is able to run vCPUs from multiple guests.

However, this may not necessarily be the case: Some cloud providers have compute instances which all their devices are emulated or ParaVirtualized.
In the proposed scheduling mechanism, all the IOThreads of these guests will not be able to utilize HyperThreading which can be a significant performance hit.
So Oracle Cloud (OCI) are folks who do care enough about the KVM/L1TF issue but gives a shit about having sibling CPUs available to run host userspace. :)
Unless I’m missing something of course...

In addition, desktop users who run VMs today, expect a security boundary to exist between the guest and the host.
Besides the L1TF HyperThreading variant, we were able to preserve such a security boundary.
It seems a bit weird that we will implement a mechanism in x86 KVM that it’s message to users is basically:
“If you want to have a security boundary between a VM and the host, you need to enable this knob which will also cause the rest of your host
to see half the amount of logical processors”.

Furthermore, I think it is important to think about a mechanism which may help us to mitigate future similar “core-cache-leak” vulnerabilities.
As I previously mentioned, the “core scheduler” could help us mitigate these vulnerabilities on OS-level by disallowing userspace tasks of different “security domain”
to run as siblings on the same core.


(Cc Paolo who probably have good feedback on the entire email thread as-well)

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