Saturday, 28 March 2015

Google researchers hack PCs using DRAM electrical leaks

Google researchers have written the first-ever attack code that takes advantage of electrical interference between densely packed memory cells, a unique style of attack that could require changes in chip design.

The work builds on a paper published last year by Carnegie Mellon University and Intel, which found it was possible to change binary values in stored memory by repeatedly accessing nearby memory cells, a process called “bit flipping.”

DRAM memory is vulnerable to such electrical interference because the cells are so closely packed together, a result of engineers increasing a chip’s memory capacity.

Chipmakers have known about electrical interference, but may have viewed it as a reliability issue rather than a security problem, wrote Mark Seaborn, a Google software engineer. Google’s work shows bit flipping can have a much larger impact.

They tested 29 x86-based laptops manufactured between 2010 and last year and found some vulnerable. All of the laptops, which were not identified by make and model, used DDR3 DRAM.

A lack of technical information makes it hard to figure out more broadly which computers would be most vulnerable.

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