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Date: Sun, 16 Feb 2014 01:03:50 +0400
From: Solar Designer <>
To: "CERT(R) Coordination Center" <>
Subject: Re: Vendor adoption of PIE INFO#934476 oss-security

Hi Will and all,

On Tue, Feb 11, 2014 at 04:37:21PM -0500, CERT(R) Coordination Center wrote:
> We had originally notified Linux vendors individually through our
> normal channels, but it has come to our attention that this could
> perhaps be a better forum to have a discussion about the topic.

I agree.

> We recently published a blog post about the state of ASLR/PIE on Linux
> compared to how it is on Windows:
> <>

It's nice to see that you're looking into these issues now.

> tl;dr: On x86 Linux, there's a significant performance impact to PIE,
> however on the x86_64 platform it's not so clear whether the
> performance impact is significant enough to stop widespread use of
> PIE.

Right, although even 32-bit x86's performance impact might not be bad
enough to stop widespread use for programs that are not CPU-bound.

> This is where we are looking for input from the Linux vendors.  It has
> been reported <>:
> 2.4 PIE and x64
> <snip>  
> ... "A quick evaluation for x64 reports an average overhead of 3.61%
> and a geometric mean of 2.34% for an -O3 optimization level on the
> same system using the "test" dataset of SPEC CPU2006."

The performance impact given for 32-bit x86 in this paper is very high,
up to 25% (seen on a couple of benchmarks) and e.g. 16.89% for bzip2.

With bzip2, the irony is that most(?) distros incur this performance
impact anyway, because most processing occurs in libbz2, which is
typically linked to bzip2 dynamically, and the dynamic library is built
as PIC (should be same performance impact as PIE).  I deliberately
changed this for Owl in 2002:

* Fri Feb 01 2002 Solar Designer <> 1.0.2-owl1
- Package the bzip2 binary that is statically-linked against libbz2 for
better performance on register-starved architectures such as the x86.

IIRC, I measured a performance impact of a few percent on a Pentium 3 at
the time (yet I felt it was significant enough to bother).  So I am
surprised to see the 16.89% figure.  Is the performance impact on new
gcc or/and on new CPUs higher, or is it a side-effect of how bzip2 is
modified in the SPEC CPU2006 tree, or did the paper author do something
wrong (is it possible that some of the measured performance difference
is actually from a side-effect rather than from PIE?)

I think we'll need to re-test, and do so on actual distros' packages.

A relevant past posting/thread:

This links to two other sources, which give sort of contradictory
performance impact percentages for 32-bit x86 (30% vs 5.8%).

> For those environments that put a high value on security, it would
> seem that a 2-3% overhead might be acceptable.  Though being a
> compile-time option, it would seem that the "faster" vs. "more secure"
> decision would need to be made ahead of time by the vendor.  And
> obviously, one size does not fit all.

I'd expect nearly zero performance impact for x86_64.  The paper says
there's "average overhead of 3.61% and a geometric mean of 2.34%", but
given this arch's PC-relative addressing it is unclear to me where the
impact is coming from.  Having manually changed some x86_64 assembly
code in JtR -jumbo from absolute to PC-relative addressing, I saw no
performance impact at all (although I tested only on a handful of CPU
types) - and this is for 100% CPU-bound code.  Is gcc doing something
dumb, or are there CPUs where PC-relative addressing has performance
impact, or is it indirect effect via code size increase (did it
increase? why? IIRC, it didn't for me), or was the test flawed?

> Thoughts?  What is stopping you from enabling PIE for everything, at
> least on the x86_64 platform?

Laziness, other priorities.  We should do it.

There might be examples of runtime generated (JIT) code or
bytecode-alike caching across program invocations, where the generated
code would reference functions/callbacks in the main program and would
thus depend on the program staying where it was during code generation -
but I am unaware of specific examples of that.  Anyhow, this is going to
be very rare and it's not a reason not to build a distro's packages as
PIE by default (exceptions may then be made).


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