OpenBSD Disabling SMT / Hyper Threading Due To Security Concerns
Written by Michael Larabel in BSD on 19 June 2018 at 05:41 PM EDT. 35 Comments
BSD --
Security oriented BSD operating system OpenBSD is making the move to disable Hyper Threading (HT) on Intel CPUs and more broadly moving to disable SMT (Simultaneous Multi Threading) on other CPUs too.

Disabling of Intel HT and to follow with disabling SMT for other architectures is being done in the name of security. "SMT (Simultanious Multi Threading) implementations typically share TLBs and L1 caches between threads. This can make cache timing attacks a lot easier and we strongly suspect that this will make several spectre-class bugs exploitable. Especially on Intel's SMT implementation which is better known as Hypter-threading. We really should not run different security domains on different processor threads of the same core."

OpenBSD could improve their kernel's scheduler to workaround this, but given that is a large feat, at least for now they have decided to disable Hyper Threading by default.

Those wishing to toggle the OpenBSD SMT support can use the new hw.smt sysctl setting on OpenBSD/AMD64 and is being extended to cover CPUs from other vendors and architectures.

This may have a large impact on multi-threaded workloads, but OpenBSD developers are trying to play this down by saying, "Note that SMT doesn't necessarily have a positive effect on performance; it highly depends on the workload. In all likelyhood it will actually slow down most workloads if you have a CPU with more than two cores."

The change was merged today ahead of the eventual OpenBSD 6.4 release.
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Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter or contacted via MichaelLarabel.com.

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