Microarchitectural Attacks and Defenses Jan Reineke


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Microarchitectural Attacks and Defenses



Spectre, Meltdown, and other microarchitectural attacks have been in the limelight in recent years. These attacks exploit subtle timing and behavioral differences of processors that are caused by microarchitectural optimizations such as caches and speculative execution to gain access to secret information.  

In this seminar, we are going to study

  • prominent microarchitectural attacks,
  • hardware-based countermeasures,
  • software-based countermeasures, and
  • formal methods to characterize vulnerabilities and to rigorously analyze hardware- and software-based countermeasures,

with a focus on speculative-execution attacks.

Due to COVID-19, the seminar will be conducted virtually, with a possibility to move to a hybrid setting during the semester. If that is the case, it will still be possible to attend the seminar virtually.

Each participant will give a presentation of an assigned paper, followed by a group discussion. All students are expected to read each paper carefully and to actively participate in the discussions. Each student will write a summary of the paper they have presented, including a general overview of the topic and reflecting the group discussion.

This is a combined proseminar and seminar with a total of 12 seats.


Basic knowledge of computer architecture (e.g. due to Systemarchitektur) is required.
Knowledge of security and formal methods is a plus.


  • Each student is assigned one of the three groups of papers:
    • each student is designated as the presenter of one of the papers from his group
    • each student needs to read all papers from his group and submit a one-page summary + 3 questions about each paper
  • The presenter of paper needs to deliver a talk draft to his advisor at least 24 days (hard deadline) prior to his scheduled talk. In the week before the talk, the presenter should also deliver a practice talk to his advisor.
  • Summaries+questions have to be delivered 24 hours prior to the respective session.
  • For the seminar students (and thus not the proseminar students), a seminar report (should summarize the paper and discuss it in the context of the other work studied in the seminar) is required in addition, to be delivered at the end of the term, 24.3.2021).

Grading Scheme

  Seminar Proseminar
Presentation Rough presentation draft 35% 7% 50% 10%
Full set of slides 7% 10%
Actual presentation of paper 21% 30%
Summaries of other papers + questions 20% 30%
Participation during sessions 15% 20%
Seminar Report (Seminar students only) 30%  



Four sessions of 2h30 each are planned:

  • 1st session: Tuesday, 12.01.2021, 16:00-18:30
  • 2nd session: Tuesday, 19.01.2021, 16:00-18:30
  • 3rd session: Tuesday, 26.01.2021, 16:00-18:30
  • 4th session: Tuesday, 3.02.2021, 16:00-18:30
  • Seminar report delivery (only for Seminar students): 24.03.2021

Note that this schedule is not definitive and might change in the future.

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