C Is Not a Low-Level Language

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C Is Not a Low-Level Language, illustration

Credit: Bug Fish

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In the wake of the recent Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities, it is worth spending some time looking at root causes. Both of these vulnerabilities involved processors speculatively executing instructions past some kind of access check and allowing the attacker to observe the results via a side channel. The features that led to these vulnerabilities, along with several others, were added to let C programmers continue to believe they were programming in a low-level language, when this hasn’t been the case for decades.

Processor vendors are not alone in this. Those of us working on C/C++ compilers have also participated.


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