How Hackers Are Now Exploiting Physics Itself

December 18, 2016 5:00 am
(abzee/E+/Getty Images)
(abzee/E+/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - JUNE 22: In this photo Illustration hands typing on a computer keyboard on June 22, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo Illustration by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)
Hands typing on a computer keyboard. (Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)


RealClearLife has reported on cyber criminals escalating capabilities in recent months. Hackers have been able to do everything from steal 21 million government records to swipe data entirely through the sounds your computer makes. Now they have an ingenious new approach. Andy Greenberg details how this method works for Wired. He writes:

“….new attacks use a technique Google researchers first demonstrated last March called ‘Rowhammer.‘ The trick works by running a program on the target computer, which repeatedly overwrites a certain row of transistors in its DRAM flash memory, ‘hammering’ it until a rare glitch occurs: Electric charge leaks from the hammered row of transistors into an adjacent row. The leaked charge then causes a certain bit in that adjacent row of the computer’s memory to flip from one to zero or vice versa. That bit flip gives you access to a privileged level of the computer’s operating system… It’s messy. And mind-bending. And it works.”

(abzee/E+/Getty Images)
Hackers are taking advantage of vulnerabilities in computer transistors caused by physics (abzee/E+/Getty Images)


The obvious question: What can you do to protect yourself from this? The answer: for now, not a lot. Greenberg notes that this “kind of exploitation of hardware means that no software update can help.” However, there is hope, as researchers have “identified one countermeasure to Rowhammer’s memory charge leakage: a feature of DRAM called ‘error-correcting code’ constantly corrects abnormal levels of charge in any particular transistor.”

To read the full article (and be filled with a strong urge to get off the web forever), click here. To learn far more about how Rowhammer works, watch the video below.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.