The Meltdown Attack

(logo) Meltdown is an attack which exploits vulnerabilities in modern processors; it was announced early in 2018. Using it, any process can determine the entire memory contents of the system including that used by the kernel itself and also within other zones. Meltdown has been assigned CVE-2017-5754.


Given the limitations of the x86 architecture, the mitigation against Meltdown is to stop mapping kernel text, data etc. into the page table whilst running userland code; this technique is now commonly known as Kernel Page Table Isolation (KPTI).

KPTI in OmniOS

Thanks to the team at Joyent, OmniOS has a KPTI implementation which is included and enabled by default from release r151026 onwards and will be back-ported to r151022 (LTS) once more experience is gained; it’s available in our bloody release now.

KPTI does have a performance impact as memory caches need to be flushed whenever a process transitions from user to kernel space or vice versa. The impact is highly dependant on the workload however, in our experience - and particularly due to the considered way in which it has been implemented - this is under 5% for most applications. Joyent have also enabled the use of additional CPU features (PCID/INVPCID) to further speed this up when possible. If your CPU has just PCID then it will be used to improve KPTI speed and if you have INVPCID too you’ll get the best performance.

Two of the engineers responsible for the KPTI implementation have posted interesting blog articles documenting the experience that are well worth a read:

Confirming KPTI Operation

The easiest way to check if KPTI is enabled, and what additional CPU features are being used, is to check the kernel log:

% dmesg | grep KPTI
Mar 18 17:22:42 omnios unix: [ID 551322] KPTI enabled (PCID in use, INVPCID not supported)

Alternatively, the kernel variables can be queried directly as follows (requires root). This is the same system as above which has PCID but not INVPCID.

# echo 'kpti_enable/X;x86_use_pcid/X;x86_use_invpcid' | mdb -k
kpti_enable:    1
x86_use_pcid:   1

To directly check if your CPU supports PCID/INVPCID, install the cpuid package and check the output:

# pkg install cpuid
# cpuid | egrep -i 'context|PCID'

or confirm the output from mdb (requires root):

echo ::x86_featureset | mdb -k | grep pcid

Disabling KPTI

Should you wish to disable KPTI for any reason, create a file called /boot/conf.d/kpti containing the following line:


and restart the system. A message will be printed to the console during boot, confirming that KPTI has been disabled:

unix: forcing kpti to OFF due to boot argument
SunOS Release 5.11 Version omnios-master-5cae57a473 64-bit