Now, a computer 'guardian' to protect users from undiscovered bugs

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Washington, October 2 : University of Michigan researchers have come up with a system that can enable computer chips to work around all functional bugs, including the ones that have not been detected as yet.

Their idea is to build a virtual fence that prevents a chip from operating in untested configurations.

The researchers say that their approach keeps track of all the configurations Intel processor may encounter, and loads the information onto a minuscule monitor that would be added to each processor.

According to them, the monitor called a semantic guardian would keep the chip operating within its virtual fence.

The researchers have revealed that the system works by switching the processor into a slower, bare-bones, safe mode when the chip encounters a configuration that has not been validated.

They say that the monitor would treat all untested configurations as potential threats.

"If you consider all the possible configurations of the processor, only a tiny fraction of them is verified. But that tiny portion accounts for the configurations that occur 99.9 percent of the time," said Valeria Bertacco, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

"Users wouldn't even notice when their processor switched to safe mode. It would happen infrequently, and it would only last momentarily, to get the computer through the uncharted territory. Then the chip would flip back to its regular mode," Bertacco said.

The researchers say that their system would be akin to turning a motorcycle into a bicycle briefly when a rider encounters a rough patch of road, and thus a chip in safe mode would still operates properly and perform all necessary functions.

The guardian would take only a small fraction of the microprocessor's area with a imperceptible performance impact, which the researchers assert is a small price to pay to eliminate the risks of buggy hardware.

The group is upbeat that this approach may also protect against the misuse of hardware design bugs by hackers to gain control of other computers.

"Semantic guardians would stop these security attackers dead in their tracks, since the processor would no longer be able to execute the buggy configurations that they were planning to exploit, said Ilya Wagner, a doctoral student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

A presentation on this research was made at the Gigascale System Research Center's annual meeting, where industry and government funding agencies come together to learn about new research results, on September 29.

ANI

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