Chrome RAM usage up more than 10 percent with new Spectre fix

Spectre Mitigation Increases Chrome Memory Usage, Google Says

If you've noticed that Chrome on the desktop is using more RAM, you're not imagining it. Google has enabled a Site Isolation feature in Windows, Mac, Linux and Chrome OS to help mitigate against the Spectre vulnerability - and it's a bit memory-hungry.

Enterprise users may use policies to enable Site Isolation starting in Chrome 68 for Android, and there is also a manual option to turn the feature on right now. Threads used to render the page in one process can not interfere with nor snoop on, via speculative execution or crafty JavaScript, other sites, prevent malicious pages from lifting passwords and other secrets.

With Site Isolation is enabled, Chrome runs a different browser process for each internet domain.

While websites are generally not able to access stored data from other websites in the browser due to Chrome's Same Origin policy, the Site Isolation feature strengthens this protection by putting pages from different websites into different processes, which are sandboxed to limit what that process is capable of doing.

Site Isolation, however, does not prevent attacks exploiting Meltdown, as only operating system and hardware solutions are effective against it. For example, cross-site iframes and cross-site pop-ups typically stayed in the same process as the page that created them. "This would allow a successful Spectre attack to read data (e.g., cookies, passwords, etc.) belonging to other frames or pop-ups in its process", explained Reis.

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"Splitting a single page across multiple processes is a major change to how Chrome works, and the Chrome Security team has been pursuing this for several years, independently of Spectre". The downside, however, is Chrome will use even more RAM than it already does.

A single page may now be split across multiple renderer processes using out-of-process iframes. "This significantly reduces the threat posed by Spectre".

Reis said it generally shouldn't cause visible changes for most users or web browsers outside of a few known issues but still, that's a significant performance penalty, especially on a machine that may already be light in terms of RAM.

Tip: Firefox supports a similar feature called First-Party Isolation. Additionally, enabling Site Isolation results in some changed behaviors to frames, as Google notes that hidden cross-site frames will no longer register clicks, though they believe this to be "relatively uncommon in practice", likewise, printing websites with cross-site subframes is unlikely to work. Those tweaks make it harder for malicious code to successfully pluck sensitive data out of restricted memory.

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