12th Generation Intel® Core™ Processors

Datasheet, Volume 1 of 2

ID 655258
Date 08/08/2022

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Shadow Stack

A shadow stack is a second stack for the program that is used exclusively for control transfer operations. This stack is separate from the data stack and can be enabled for operation individually in user mode or supervisor mode.

The shadow stack is protected from tamper through the page table protections such that regular store instructions cannot modify the contents of the shadow stack. To provide this protection the page table protections are extended to support an additional attribute for pages to mark them as “Shadow Stack” pages. When shadow stacks are enabled, control transfer instructions/flows such as near call, far call, call to interrupt/exception handlers, etc. store their return addresses to the shadow stack. The RET instruction pops the return address from both stacks and compares them. If the return addresses from the two stacks do not match, the processor signals a control protection exception (#CP). Stores from instructions such as MOV, XSAVE, etc. are not allowed to the shadow stack.