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
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 8/10/2020
Researcher Finds New Office Macro Attacks for MacOS
Curtis Franklin Jr., Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  8/7/2020
Digital Clones Could Cause Problems for Identity Systems
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  8/8/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal, a Dark Reading Perspective
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
This special report takes a look at how enterprises are using threat intelligence, as well as emerging best practices for integrating threat intel into security operations and incident response. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-8913
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-12
A local, arbitrary code execution vulnerability exists in the SplitCompat.install endpoint in Android's Play Core Library versions prior to 1.7.2. A malicious attacker could create an apk which targets a specific application, and if a victim were to install this apk, the attacker could perform a dir...
CVE-2020-7029
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-11
A Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) vulnerability was discovered in the System Management Interface Web component of Avaya Aura Communication Manager and Avaya Aura Messaging. This vulnerability could allow an unauthenticated remote attacker to perform Web administration actions with the privileged ...
CVE-2020-17489
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-11
An issue was discovered in certain configurations of GNOME gnome-shell through 3.36.4. When logging out of an account, the password box from the login dialog reappears with the password still visible. If the user had decided to have the password shown in cleartext at login time, it is then visible f...
CVE-2020-17495
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-11
django-celery-results through 1.2.1 stores task results in the database. Among the data it stores are the variables passed into the tasks. The variables may contain sensitive cleartext information that does not belong unencrypted in the database.
CVE-2020-0260
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-11
There is a possible out of bounds read due to an incorrect bounds check.Product: AndroidVersions: Android SoCAndroid ID: A-152225183