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Apart from stronger ALSR entropy...

Is a system using amd64 any safer than 686-pae?

What are the advantages, if any?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

In general, yes, using 64-bit architectures is a bit safer.

ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization) is a lot more effective on 64-bit architectures. On 32-bit architectures, ASLR is not very effective. On 32-bit architectures, it's only possible to introduce a half a dozen or a dozen or so bits of randomness into the address space layout. This means that an attacker can defeat ASLR by simply trying many times (a few hundred or a few thousand times).

ASLR makes it harder for an attacker to exploit buffer overrun vulnerabilities, so this difference between 32-bit and 64-bit architectures has some relevance to system security.

Apart from its effects on ASLR, I'm not aware of any security benefits of a 64-bit architecture over a 32-bit architecture.

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Depending on OS in use, 64bit editions may also be more secure than their equivalent 32-bit versions. – AviD Oct 22 '12 at 18:39
Note that in 64-bit mode, the address space is usually not as large as 64 bits, but only 48 bits in current amd64-able CPU; and the OS can limit that further (44 bits in Windows). This is not specific to x86; if I remember correctly, 64-bit Alpha was also limited to 45 bits of actual address space. – Thomas Pornin Oct 23 '12 at 0:37
@ThomasPornin If I remember correctly, this is to do with the way that page tables are handled. Each section of the physical 48-bit address corresponds to various sections of the page table, but making it handle the full 64-bit address space would cause a large amount of memory to be wasted on page metadata entries that simply won't be used on systems with 256TB of RAM or less. – Polynomial Oct 23 '12 at 7:57

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