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Technical Perspective: Why 'Correct' Computers Can Leak Your Information

By Mark D. Hill

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 63 No. 7, Page 92

Information security is important, as much of life's private information is now stored on shared computers accessible from anywhere in the world. Many attacks begin by exploiting flaws in a system's implementation (bugs) or specification. Most exploited flaws today are in software, as software presents a large attack surface. While much rarer, hardware flaws can cause even correct software to leak information and fixing can even require new hardware.

As the complexity of modern systems has grown, we have become dependent on abstraction to manage it, and yet this gives rise to subtle classes of flaws when the assumptions that underpin these abstractions are violated. Abstractions in the logical systems can be perfect: once matrix properties are proven, they apply to all arrays of numbers. Abstractions of the physical world are approximations or models. For example, while light is neither a particle nor a wave, both are useful models.


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