Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

June 12, 2023

A DIY Robot for automating a Cold boot attack now exists

Filed under: Computer Hardware,Computer Security,My Thoughts,Tech Related — Suramya @ 11:58 PM

A Cold boot Attack has been around for a while (It was first demo’d in 2008) but it has been a fairly manual tricky operation till now. But now there is a new DIY Robot has been created that reduces the manual effort for this attack. Now you might be asking what on earth is a Cold Boot Attack? No, it is not referring to having to wear cold shoes in winter. It is actually a very interesting attack where the attacker freezes the RAM chips of a system while it is running and then shuts it down, after which they remove the RAM chip and put it in another device to read the data from it. Because the chip has been cooled significantly it retains the information even after the system is shutdown long enough for information to be extracted from it. The original cold boot attack involved freezing a laptop’s memory by inverting a can of compressed air to chill the computer’s DRAM to around -50°C so that it persists for several minutes, even after the system was powered down.

Ang Cui, founder and CEO of Red Balloon Security has created a process & robot to extract the chip from the system. The robot is a CNC machine which is has a FGPA (field-programmable gate array) connected to it. The robot chills the RAM chips one at a time, extracts them from the board and then inserts them into the FGPA that reads the contents of the chip allowing them to extract the data from it. To make it easier and allow them more time to remove the chip, the system monitors the electromagnetic emanation of the device which allows them to identify when the system is running CPU bound operations. Once they identify that, they can extract the chip when the system is using the CPU and not reading/writing to the RAM. This gives the robot a window of ~10 milliseconds to extract the chips instead of having to do it in nanoseconds.

Cui and colleagues demonstrated their robot on a Siemens SIMATIC S7-1500 PLC, from which they were able to recover the contents of encrypted firmware binaries. They also conducted a similarly successful attack on DDR3 DRAM in a CISCO IP Phone 8800 series to access the runtime ARM TrustZone memory.

They believe their technique is applicable to more sophisticated DDR4 and DDR5 if a more expensive (like, about $10,000) FPGA-based memory readout platform is used – a cost they expect will decline in time.

Cold boot attacks can be countered with physical memory encryption, Cui said.

This is not an attack the average user has to worry about but it is something that folks working on critical systems like banking servers, government systems, weapons etc need to be aware of and guard against. More details on the attack will be provided during a talk at the REcon reverse engineering conference in Canada titled “Ice Ice Baby: Coppin’ RAM With DIY Cryo-Mechanical Robot

Source: Hacker News: Robot can rip the data out of RAM chips

– Suramya

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