In the good old days, data on hard disks and live “volatile” memory were the targets of bad actors. Any usable data that people will pay to get back and any secret information that they typed in while the computer was running, such as passwords and special access characters were the golden ticket to access the nirvana or treasures in an organizations digital chest.
Now, the bad actors have taken a step further to manipulate previous technically sound but limited exploits known as Rowhammers to access information stored on memory chips. The advantage, unlike volatile memory, is that this type of data remains even when the machine is rebooted, so access to this level can expose the types of data that were previously assumed to be fully protected.
This new RAMBleeds methodology that is making news is both interesting and a little shocking. The concept of flipping bits and analyzing the patterns to extract specific code variables is quite unique. It is important to note that while a recent report released by the University of Michigan, Graz University of Technology, the University of Adelaide and Data61 did provide important details on the process, it did not fully evaluate the impact on this type of attack on a production server. The amount of time and computer resources required to successfully extract and evaluate usable, exploitable data at this point in time would make this type of incident non-viable for most bad actor groups.
What does this mean to you? The most important element presented by these dedicated Universities is that all organizations need to change the way they think about vulnerabilities. Technology is ever-changing, and exploits are now being attempted in new and previously unavailable areas of systems. Organizations need to be more vigilant on their observations of system performance degradations, memory leaks and any other unusual patterns that make your Spockian eyebrow go up!
What can you do?