Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Endpoint Security

1/3/2020
11:10 AM
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb
50%
50%

FPGAs Do It Faster Than CPUs

Researchers' use of a 'Jackhammer' exploit has shown again how one problem can be exploited in many ways, with each iteration of an attack becoming faster and more efficient.

Rowhammer is the name of a group of hardware-based attacks that focus on the memory of a computer. Researchers have known since the middle of the last decade that doing a high-rate repeated reading of a data cell inside a memory chip can have deleterious effects on the contents of the cell due to the electrical design of the chip.

Over the years, researchers have been able to extend the initial Rowhammer exploit, getting varied outcomes to occur such as adapting to hardware changes done by manufacturers, altering data, hijacking systems and exfiltrating data from victim machines.

It's about to get worse. Researchers have brought out their Jackhammer.

The Jackhammer paper describes how the Floating Point Gate Array (FPGA) chip that is used to accelerate certain computational tasks can also give rise to a Rowhammer-style attack, which it can do with greater efficiency than other CPU-based Rowhammer exploits. This is because the FPGA can repeatedly access the memory system substantially faster than a host machine's CPU can.

FPGAs can also directly access a machine's CPU cache along with the RAM memory. This is the architectural advantage of where they are placed in a system, and gives them the ability to speed up computations without having to go through intermediate software layers like an operating system.

The researchers realized that CPU-FPGA hybrids were here and growing (especially in cloud instances), and they needed to have a security evaluation. They chose Intel's Arria 10 GXFPGA as an example of the current generation of FPGA accelerator platform that had been designed in particular for heavy and/or cloud-based computation loads.

So, they used it as a test platform. The researchers were able to conduct Rowhammer-style ("Jackhammer") exploits against an RSA implementation embedded in an SSL protocol. The researchers found that they could grab the private keys that were used to secure SSL connections with this technique.

They also found that using custom FPGAs to implement the Rowhammer exploit would cause far more of the "bit flips" that they wanted to see. A FPGA can hit the data cell faster and more often than a CPU can do it meaning the FPGA causes more results to occur during an attack. It all goes faster when an FPGA is used.

And as a side benefit, no trace of all this is left on the CPU because it's never touched when an FPGA is used.

That right there means new thinking at the hardware level needs to be done about FPGA-CPU hybrids. Monitoring of the RAM in a system may be necessary to ensure its integrity. Other hardware tricks will no doubt be needed.

Jackhammer shows again how one problem can be exploited in many ways, with each iteration of an attack becoming faster and more efficient.

— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Edge-DRsplash-10-edge-articles
I Smell a RAT! New Cybersecurity Threats for the Crypto Industry
David Trepp, Partner, IT Assurance with accounting and advisory firm BPM LLP,  7/9/2021
News
Attacks on Kaseya Servers Led to Ransomware in Less Than 2 Hours
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  7/7/2021
Commentary
It's in the Game (but It Shouldn't Be)
Tal Memran, Cybersecurity Expert, CYE,  7/9/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Concerns over supply chain vulnerabilities and attack visibility drove some significant changes in enterprise cybersecurity strategies over the past year. Dark Reading's 2021 Strategic Security Survey showed that many organizations are staying the course regarding the use of a mix of attack prevention and threat detection technologies and practices for dealing with cyber threats.
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2021-0652
PUBLISHED: 2021-10-22
In VectorDrawable::VectorDrawable of VectorDrawable.java, there is a possible way to introduce a memory corruption due to sharing of not thread-safe objects. This could lead to local escalation of privilege with no additional execution privileges needed. User interaction is not needed for exploitati...
CVE-2021-0702
PUBLISHED: 2021-10-22
In RevertActiveSessions of apexd.cpp, there is a possible way to share the wrong file due to an unintentional MediaStore downgrade. This could lead to local information disclosure with no additional execution privileges needed. User interaction is needed for exploitation.Product: AndroidVersions: An...
CVE-2021-0703
PUBLISHED: 2021-10-22
In SecondStageMain of init.cpp, there is a possible use after free due to incorrect shared_ptr usage. This could lead to local escalation of privilege if the attacker has physical access to the device, with no additional execution privileges needed. User interaction is not needed for exploitation.Pr...
CVE-2021-0705
PUBLISHED: 2021-10-22
In sanitizeSbn of NotificationManagerService.java, there is a possible way to keep service running in foreground and keep granted permissions due to Bypass of Background Service Restrictions. This could lead to local escalation of privilege with no additional execution privileges needed. User intera...
CVE-2021-0706
PUBLISHED: 2021-10-22
In startListening of PluginManagerImpl.java, there is a possible way to disable arbitrary app components due to a missing permission check. This could lead to local denial of service with no additional execution privileges needed. User interaction is not needed for exploitation.Product: AndroidVersi...