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Fourth echelon

Rowhammer: A new JavaScript attack that targets DRAM

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Most of the security flaws and problems that get attention in the community are fundamentally software-based. It’s not impossible to find a hardware bug or errata to target, but such attacks are typically an order of magnitude more difficult and rely on your target having a specific make or model of CPU. A hardware attack against Haswell will most likely fail against an Ivy Bridge or AMD CPU, while an attack that succeeds against an ARM chip’s physical design won’t apply to AMD or Intel. There’s a new hardware attack making the rounds, dubbed Rowhammer, that directly targets DRAM — and it’s got the potential to be a major headache in the future.

Here’s how Rowhammer works: Recent research has shown that repeatedly accessing the same memory blocks over and over can cause a bit flip in other DRAM locations. These early attacks, however, required executing native code and relied on special instructions. A recent Chrome patch eliminated support for some of these instructions, which was thought to cause the problem.



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