The AMD Spectre Mitigation Strategy Guide

The Complete AMD Spectre Mitigation Strategy Guide Rev. 2.0

AMD Spectre 2 Hardware Mitigations

AMD Spectre 2 Hardware Mitigation Options

On 7 February, AMD revealed three AMD64 mechanisms to mitigate against Spectre 2 (indirect branch target injection). They are designed to increase control of indirect branches, and identified by CPU ID bits.

Feature AMD Version (CPUID Function) MSR Exist
Indirect Branch Prediction Barrier (IBPB) 8000_0008 EBX[12]=1 PRED_CMD (MSR 49)
Indirect Branch Restricted Speculation (IBRS) 8000_0008 EBX[14]=1 SPEC_CTRL (MSR 48)
Single Thread Indirect Branch Prediction (STIBP) 8000_0008 EBX[15]=1 SPEC_CTRL (MSR 48)


AMD IBPB Hardware Mitigation

Target : Spectre 2 only

Technique : This is a write-only MSR (model-specific register) that, when written with a 0, prevents older indirect branches from influencing predictions of indirect branches in the future. This applies to jmp indirects, call indirects and returns.

As this feature prevents the processor from using all previous indirect branch information, it is meant to be used only when a software switches from one user context to another that requires protection.

CPUID Function 8000_0008, EBX[16]=1 indicates an IBRS always on mode. The processor prefers that IBRS is only set once during boot and not changed.

If IBRS is set on a processor supporting IBRS always on mode, indirect branches executed in a less privileged prediction mode will not influence branch predictions for indirect branches in a more privileged prediction mode.

This also reduces the performance impact of the WRMSR (Write to Model Specific Register) on less privileged to more privileged entry point and the WRMSR on more privileged to less privileged exit points.


AMD IBRS Hardware Mitigation

Target : Spectre 2 only

Technique : Indirect Branch Restricted Speculation (IBRS) exists at MSR 0x48 (SPEC_CTRL) bit 0.

When this bit is set, it keeps indirect branches that occurred in a lesser prediction mode from before it was set from influencing the future indirect branches that are going to execute now while IBRS is 1. A lesser prediction mode is CPL 3 vs CPL[2-0] and Guest vs Host mode.

If software clears IBRS, it is now allowed for the older indirect branches that occurred when IBRS was 0 to be used to influence the indirect branches.

It is also possible that while IBRS is 1, another write of 1 to IBRS bit 0 occurs. This starts a new window where older indirect branches should not influence future indirect branches.

Therefore if IBRS were set in a lesser privilege mode, on a transition to a more privileged mode the more privileged mode would have to set IBRS to 1 to indicate to hardware that it wants branches in the more privileged mode separated from those in the lesser privileged mode with IBRS set.

On processors with a shared indirect branch predictor, IBRS being set provides protection from being influenced by a sibling thread’s indirect branch predictions. For the ret type of indirect branch, software is responsible for clearing out the return stack buffer with 32 calls that have a non-zero target.

Processors that support more than 32 RSB (Return Stack Buffer) entries will be responsible for clearing the extra RSB entries. Clearing out the return stack buffer maybe required on the transition from CPL3 to CPL0, even if the OS has SMEP enabled.

CPUID Function 8000_0008, EBX[18]=1 indicates that the processor prefers using the IBRS feature instead of other software mitigations such as retpoline. This allows software to remove the software mitigation and utilize the better performing IBRS mechanism.

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AMD STIBP Hardware Mitigation

Target : Spectre 2 only

Technique : The Single Thread Indirect Branch Predictor (STIBP) exists at MSR 0x48 (SPEC_CTRL) bit 1.

When this bit is set in processors that share branch prediction information, indirect branch predictions from sibling threads cannot influence the predictions of other sibling threads. Return instructions are always immune to influence by the other thread and do not require this bit to be set for protection.

Any attempt to write SPEC_CTRL bits 63:2 results in general protection fault (GP fault). If a processor only supports STIBP (bit 1) for ease of software implementation, the processor does not GP fault attempts to write bit 0. In a similar manner, if a processor only supports IBRS, attempts to set STIBP do not GP fault.

Both SPEC_CTRL and PRED_CMD are not architecturally serializing WRMSRs. They are still execution serializing and prevent any execution of future instructions until they have completed.

CPUID Function 8000_0008, EBX[17]=1 indicates an STIBP always on mode. The processor prefers that STIBP is only set once during boot and not changed. This reduces the performance impact of the WRMSR (Write to Model Specific Register) at the necessary toggle points.

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