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HandWiki. Transient Execution CPU Vulnerability. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 23 April 2024).
HandWiki. Transient Execution CPU Vulnerability. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 23, 2024.
HandWiki. "Transient Execution CPU Vulnerability" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 23, 2024).
HandWiki. (2022, November 14). Transient Execution CPU Vulnerability. In Encyclopedia.
HandWiki. "Transient Execution CPU Vulnerability." Encyclopedia. Web. 14 November, 2022.
Transient Execution CPU Vulnerability

Transient execution CPU vulnerabilities are vulnerabilities in a computer system in which a speculative execution optimization implemented in a microprocessor is exploited to leak secret data to an unauthorized party. The classic example is Spectre that gave its name to this kind of side-channel attack, but since January 2018 many different vulnerabilities have been identified.

speculative execution vulnerabilities microprocessor

1. Overview

Modern computers are highly parallel devices, composed of components with very different performance characteristics. If an operation (such as a branch) cannot yet be performed because some earlier slow operation (such as a memory read) has not yet completed, a microprocessor may attempt to predict the result of the earlier operation and execute the later operation speculatively, acting as if the prediction was correct. The prediction may be based on recent behavior of the system. When the earlier, slower operation completes, the microprocessor determines whether prediction was correct or incorrect. If it was correct then execution proceeds uninterrupted; if it was incorrect then the microprocessor rolls back the speculatively executed operations and repeats the original instruction with the real result of the slow operation. Specifically, a transient instruction[1] refers to an instruction processed by error by the processor (incriminating the branch predictor in the case of Spectre) which can affect the micro-architectural state of the processor, leaving the architectural state without any trace of its execution.

In terms of the directly visible behavior of the computer it is as if the speculatively executed code "never happened". However, this speculative execution may affect the state of certain components of the microprocessor, such as the cache, and this effect may be discovered by careful monitoring of the timing of subsequent operations.

If an attacker can arrange that the speculatively executed code (which may be directly written by the attacker, or may be a suitable gadget that they have found in the targeted system) operates on secret data that they are unauthorized to access, and has a different effect on the cache for different values of the secret data, they may be able to discover the value of the secret data.

Starting in 2017, multiple examples of such vulnerabilities were identified, with publication starting in early 2018.

In March 2021 AMD security researchers discovered that the Predictive Store Forwarding algorithm in Zen 3 CPUs could be used by malicious applications to access data it shouldn't be accessing.[2] According to Phoronix there's little impact in disabling the feature.[3]

In June 2021, two new vulnerabilities, Speculative Code Store Bypass (SCSB, CVE-2021-0086) and Floating Point Value Injection (FPVI, CVE-2021-0089), affecting all modern x86-64 CPUs both from Intel and AMD were discovered.[4] In order to mitigate them software has to be rewritten and recompiled. ARM CPUs are not affected by SCSB but some certain ARM architectures are affected by FPVI.[5]

In August 2021 a vulnerability called "Transient Execution of Non-canonical Accesses" affecting certain AMD CPUs was undisclosed.[6][7][8] It requires the same mitigations as the MDS vulnerability affecting certain Intel CPUs.[9] It was assigned CVE-2020-12965. Since most x86 software software is already patched against MDS and this vulnerability has the exact same mitigations, software vendors don't have to address this vulnerability.

In October 2021 for the first time ever a vulnerability similar to Meltdown was disclosed[10][11] to be affecting all AMD CPUs however the company doesn't think any new mitigations have to be applied and the existing ones are already sufficient.[12]

2. Vulnerabilities and Mitigations Summary

Mitigation Type Comprehensiveness Effectiveness Performance Impact
Hardware Full Full None…Small
Firmware Microcode Update Partial Partial…Full None…Large
OS/VMM Partial Partial…Full Small…Large
Software Recompilation Poor Partial…Full Medium…Large

Hardware mitigations require change to the CPU design and thus a new iteration of hardware, but impose close to zero performance loss. Microcode updates alter the software that the CPU runs on, requiring patches to be released and integrated into every operating system and for each CPU. OS/VMM mitigations are applied at the operating system or virtual machine level and (depending on workload) often incur quite a significant performance loss. Software recompilation requires recompiling every piece of software and usually incur a severe performance hit.

Vulnerability Name


CVE Affected CPU architectures and mitigations
Intel[13] AMD[14]
Ice Lake[15] Cascade Lake,
Comet Lake
Whiskey Lake,
Amber Lake
Coffee Lake
(9th gen)[16]
Coffee Lake
(8th gen)*
Zen 1 / Zen 1+ Zen 2[17]
Spectre v1
Bounds Check Bypass
2017-5753 Software Recompilation Software Recompilation[18]
Spectre v2
Branch Target Injection
2017-5715 Hardware + OS Microcode + OS Microcode + OS Microcode + OS/VMM Hardware + OS/VMM
SpectreRSB[19]/ret2spec[20] Return Mispredict 2018-15572 OS[21]
Rogue Data Cache Load
2017-5754 Not affected Microcode Not affected
Spectre-NG v3a 2018-3640 Not affected[22] Microcode
Spectre-NG v4
Speculative Store Bypass
2018-3639 Hardware + OS/VMM[22] Microcode + OS OS/VMM Hardware + OS/VMM
L1 Terminal Fault, L1TF
2018-3615 Not affected Microcode Not affected
Lazy FP State Restore
2018-3665 OS/VMM[23]
Spectre-NG v1.1
Bounds Check Bypass Store
2018-3693 OS/VMM[24]
Spectre-NG v1.2
Read-only Protection Bypass (RPB)
  No CVE and has never been confirmed by Intel Not affected[14]
L1 Terminal Fault (L1TF)
2018-3620 Not affected Microcode + OS Not affected
L1 Terminal Fault (L1TF)
Microarchitectural Fill Buffer Data Sampling (MFBDS)
Microarchitectural Load Port Data Sampling (MLPDS)
2018-12127 Not affected Not affected [1] Not affected Microcode + OS[25]
Microarchitectural Data Sampling Uncacheable Memory (MDSUM)
2019-11091 Not affected Microcode + OS
Microarchitectural Store Buffer Data Sampling (MSBDS)
2018-12126 Microcode[26][27] Not affected [2] Not affected Microcode + OS
Spectre SWAPGS[28][29][30] 2019-1125 Same as Spectre 1
RIDL/ZombieLoad v2
Transactional Asynchronous Abort (TAA)[31][32][33]
2019-11135 Not Affected[34] Microcode + OS
L1D Eviction Sampling (L1DES)[35][36][37]
2020-0549 Not Affected
Vector Register Sampling (VRS)[35][36]
Load Value Injection (LVI)[38][39][40][41] 2020-0551 Software recompilation
Take a Way[42][43]   Not affected Not fixed yet (disputed[44])[45]
Special Register Buffer Data Sampling (SRBDS)[46][47][48]
2020-0543 Not affected Microcode Not affected
Blindside[49]   No CVE, relies on unpatched systems.[50]

The 8th generation Coffee Lake architecture in this table also applies to a wide range of previously released Intel CPUs, not limited to the architectures based on Intel Core, Pentium 4 and Intel Atom starting with Silvermont.[51][52] Various CPU microarchitectures not included above are also affected, among them are IBM Power, ARM, MIPS and others.[53][54][55][56]

3. Future

Spectre class vulnerabilities will remain unfixed because otherwise CPU designers will have to disable OoOE which will entail a massive performance loss.

Intel CPUs past Ice Lake, e.g. Rocket Lake and Tiger Lake are not affected by Fallout/MSBDS.


  1. Kocher, Paul; Horn, Jann; Fogh, Anders; Genkin, Daniel; Gruss, Daniel. "Spectre Attacks: Exploiting Speculative Execution". 
  2. Cutress, Dr Ian. "AMD Issues Updated Speculative Spectre Security Status: Predictive Store Forwarding". 
  3. "Benchmarking AMD Zen 3 With Predictive Store Forwarding Disabled - Phoronix". 
  4. "Rage Against the Machine Clear" (in en-US). 
  5. Ltd, Arm. "Speculative Processor Vulnerability | Frequently asked questions" (in en). 
  6. "Transient Execution of Non-canonical Accesses". 
  7. Musaev, Saidgani; Fetzer, Christof (2021). "Transient Execution of Non-Canonical Accesses". 
  8. Francisco, Thomas Claburn in San. "Boffins find if you torture AMD Zen+, Zen 2 CPUs enough, they are vulnerable to Meltdown-like attack" (in en). 
  10. Lipp, Moritz; Gruss, Daniel; Schwarz, Michael (2021-10-19). "AMD Prefetch Attacks through Power and Time" (in en). USENIX Security Symposium. 
  11. "AMD Prefetch Attacks through Power and Time". 
  12. "Side-channels Related to the x86 PREFETCH Instruction". 
  13. "Affected Processors: Transient Execution Attacks & Related Security..." (in en). 
  14. "AMD Product Security | AMD". 2019-08-10. 
  15. Cutress, Dr Ian. "The Ice Lake Benchmark Preview: Inside Intel's 10nm". 
  16. online, heise. "Intel Core i9-9900K mit 8 Kernen und 5 GHz für Gamer" (in de-DE). 
  17. Cutress, Ian. "AMD Zen 2 Microarchitecture Analysis: Ryzen 3000 and EPYC Rome". 
  19. "Spectre Returns! Speculation Attacks using the Return Stack Buffer". 
  20. Maisuradze, Giorgi; Rossow, Christian (2018). "ret2spec: Speculative Execution Using Return Stack Buffers". Proceedings of the 2018 ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security. pp. 2109–2122. doi:10.1145/3243734.3243761. ISBN 9781450356930. Bibcode: 2018arXiv180710364M.
  22. "Engineering New Protections Into Hardware" (in en). 
  23. "INTEL-SA-00145". 
  24. "Bounds Check Bypass Store (BCBS) Vulnerability (INTEL-OSS-10002)". 
  25. "Intel Deep Dive CPUID Enumeration and Architectural MSRs". 
  26. "INTEL-SA-00233" (in en). 
  27. danielmgmi (2020-07-15), danielmgmi/icebreak,, retrieved 2020-07-15 
  28. "Bitdefender SWAPGS Attack Mitigation Solutions". 
  29. "Documentation/admin-guide/hw-vuln/spectre.rst - chromiumos/third_party/kernel - Git at Google". 
  30. Winder, Davey (6 August 2019). "Microsoft Confirms New Windows CPU Attack Vulnerability, Advises All Users To Update Now". Forbes. Retrieved 7 August 2019. 
  31. "Cyberus Technology: TSX Asynchronous Abort" (in en). 
  32. at 18:02, Shaun Nichols in San Francisco 12 Nov 2019. "True to its name, Intel CPU flaw ZombieLoad comes shuffling back with new variant" (in en). 
  33. Cimpanu, Catalin. "Intel's Cascade Lake CPUs impacted by new Zombieload v2 attack" (in en). 
  34. "Intel Deep Dive TSX Asynchronous Abort" (in en). 
  35. "MDS Attacks: Microarchitectural Data Sampling". 
  36. "IPAS: INTEL-SA-00329" (in en-US). 2020-01-27. 
  37. "CacheOut". 
  38. at 17:00, Thomas Claburn in San Francisco 10 Mar 2020. "You only LVI twice: Meltdown The Sequel strikes Intel chips – and full mitigation against data-meddling flaw will cost you 50%+ of performance" (in en). 
  39. "LVI: Hijacking Transient Execution with Load Value Injection". 
  40. "INTEL-SA-00334" (in en). 
  41. "Deep Dive: Load Value Injection". 
  42. "Take A Way: Exploring the Security Implications of AMD'sCache Way Predictors". 
  43. March 2020, Paul Alcorn 07. "New AMD Side Channel Attacks Discovered, Impacts Zen Architecture" (in en). 
  44. Alcorn, Paul (March 9, 2020). "New AMD Side Channel Attacks Discovered, Impacts Zen Architecture (AMD Responds)". 
  45. Cimpanu, Catalin. "AMD processors from 2011 to 2019 vulnerable to two new attacks" (in en). 
  46. "CROSSTalk" (in en-US). 
  47. "Deep Dive: Special Register Buffer Data Sampling". 
  48. "INTEL-SA-00320" (in en). 
  49. "BlindSide" (in en-US). 
  50. Francisco, Thomas Claburn in San. "Don't be BlindSided: Watch speculative memory probing bypass kernel defenses, give malware root control" (in en). 
  51. "INTEL-SA-00088" (in en). 
  52. "INTEL-SA-00115" (in en). 
  53. "Meltdown and Spectre Status Page". 
  54. Ltd, Arm. "Speculative Processor Vulnerability | Cache Speculation Issues Update" (in en). 
  55. "About speculative execution vulnerabilities in ARM-based and Intel CPUs" (in en). 
  56. "Potential Impact on Processors in the POWER Family" (in en-US). 2019-05-14. 
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