Vulnerabilities in DRAM memories – com! professional

Researchers at ETH Zurich have discovered serious weaknesses in DRAM data memories used in computers, tablets and smartphones. The vulnerabilities have now been published together with the National Cybersecurity Center (NCSC).

When we surf the Internet on our laptops or write messages on our smartphones, we actually think that we are reasonably safe from hacker attacks as long as we have the latest software updates and antivirus software installed. But what if the problem is not with the software, but with the hardware, i.e. the devices themselves?

A research team led by Kaveh Razavi at the ETH Zurich recently discovered fundamental weaknesses in DRAM data memories together with colleagues from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Qualcomm Technologies. Your research results were accepted for publication at an IT security conference, and the National Center for Cybersecurity (NCSC) has assigned a CVE (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) number. This is the first time that a CVE identification number has been issued by the NCSC in Switzerland (see box). On a scale from 0 to 10, the severity of the weak point was rated 9.

The weakness of DRAM

“A fundamental, well-known problem with DRAMs is called Rowhammer and has been known for several years,” explains Razavi. Rowhammer is an attack that exploits a fundamental weakness in modern DRAM memory modules. DRAM is the abbreviation for Dynamic Random Access Memory or dynamic RAM, where “dynamic” means that all data stored on it is volatile and has to be refreshed frequently – more than ten times per second. This is because DRAM chips use a single capacitor-transistor pair to store and access a bit of data.

The capacitor loses its electrical charge over time, and if the charge loss becomes too great, the computer no longer knows whether the value of the stored bit was “1” (which can correspond, for example, to “high charge”) or “0” ( low charge). In addition, every time a memory row is activated for reading or writing (the bits are arranged in a checkerboard pattern of rows and columns), the currents that flow in the chip can cause the capacitors in the neighboring rows to lose charge more quickly .

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