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26 - 28 February 2019 // Nuremberg, Germany

Conferences and supporting programme

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Session 02 - Hacking

Rowhammer - a Behind the Scene Report to Assess the Severity of This Attack Vector Vortragssprache Englisch

In March 2015 an already known technical issue of widely used dynamic random access memory (DRAM) [1] was exploited by Seaborn et al. [2] demonstrating that the effect can be used to exploit current IT systems. Applying frequent write accesses to the cells of DRAM memory, certain hardware characteristics can be abused to gain access to the whole main memory of the system. Consequently, the adversary is able to mount several attacks on the compromised system including privilege escalation and Denial-of-Service (DOS). Derived from the high frequent write accesses, the attack is named 'Rowhammer'. A wide range of Information Technology (IT) systems rely on DRAM as main memory. It is cheaper than other memory architectures which makes the large amount of main memory required by a variety of today's applications affordable. By that, DRAM became the memory type which buildes the baseline for ubiquitous x86 architecture computer systems such as embedded systems, PC-based industrial control systems, laptops or smartphones. While consumer as well as professional systems are equally concerned, the initial publication in 2015 [2] gained high attention. As Rowhammer originates from the DRAM hardware itself, it influences the x86 architecture as a whole, and therefore, is actively investigated by different research groups. On the application layer, the work of Gruss et al. [3] demonstrated how to exploit vulnerable systems on the application layer by using malicious Javascript. Another recent work by Brasser et al. [4] presents a defence approach by adapting the implementation of the memory allocator of the operating system (OS). Because of the severe impact of a successful attack, the topic dominated publications in technical and even non-scientific related press for a while. Unlike to other security breaches, Rowhammer cannot be applied using exploitation tool-kit like Metasploit. Therefore, editors often choose to summarise the research results published in scientific proceedings and journals in a simplified way instead of performing independent reviews. Thanks to the great media attention, a lot of IT professionals are aware of Rowhammer. On the contrary, the complexitiy of the attack prevents them from classifying the related risks. The presented work outlines the technical background of Rowhammer. The challenges in creating an independent and functional setup based on x86 and Linux are introduced. Additionally,constraints in mounting an attack on current Linux distributions and possible mitigation strategies are presented. The presentation concludes with an outlook on possible future refinements of Rowhammer.

--- Date: 27.02.2018 Time: 4:00 PM - 4:30 PM Location: Conference Counter NCC Ost



Norbert Wiedermann

Fraunhofer AISEC


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