Amnesiac DRAM: A Proactive Defense Mechanism Against Cold Boot Attacks

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DRAMs in modern computers or hand-held devices store private or often security-sensitive data. Unfortunately, one known attack vector, called a cold boot attack, remains threatening and easy-to-exploit, especially when attackers have physical access to the device. It exploits the fundamental property of current DRAMs: remanence effects that retain the stored contents for a certain period of time even after powering off. To magnify the remanence effect, cold boot attacks typically freeze the victim DRAM, thereby providing a chance to detach, move, and reattach it to an attacker's computer. Once power is on, attackers can steal all the security-critical information from the victim's DRAM, such as a master decryption key for an encrypted disk storage. Two types of defenses were proposed in the past: 1) CPU-bound cryptography, where keys are stored in CPU registers and caches instead of in DRAMs, and 2) full or partial memory encryption, where sensitive data are stored encrypted. However, both methods impose non-negligible performance or energy overheads to the running systems, and worse, significantly increase the hardware and software manufacturing costs. We found that these proposed solutions attempted to address the cold boot attacks passively: either by avoiding or by indirectly addressing the root cause of the problem, the remanence effect. In this paper, we propose and evaluate a proactive defense mechanism, Amnesiac DRAM, that comprehensively prevents the cold boot attacks. The key idea is to discard the contents in the DRAM when attackers attempt to retrieve (i.e., power on) them from the stolen DRAM. When Amnesiac DRAM senses a physical separation, it locks itself and deletes all the remaining contents, making it amnesiac. The Amnesiac DRAM causes neither performance nor energy overhead in ordinary operations (e.g., load and store) and can be easily implemented with negligible area overhead in commodity DRAM architectures.
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IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON COMPUTERS, v.70, no.4, pp.539 - 551

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EE-Journal Papers(저널논문)
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