Use the CPU cache to prevent cold boot? No.


Frozen Cache is a blog dedicated to a novel way to prevent cold boot attacks. Last year the cold boot team demonstrated that they could extract encryption keys from a machine’s RAM by placing it in another system (or the same machine by doing a quick reboot). Frozen Cache aims to prevent this by storing the encryption key in the CPU’s cache. It copies the key out of RAM into the CPU’s registers and then zeroes it in RAM. It then freezes the cache and attempts to write the key back to RAM. The key is pushed into the cache, but isn’t written back to RAM.

The first major issue with this is the performance hit. You end up kneecapping the processor when you freeze the cache and the author suggests that you’d only do this when the screen is locked. We asked cold boot team member [Jacob Appelbaum] what he thought of the approach. He pointed out that the current cold boot attack reconstructs the key from the full keyschedule, which according to the Frozen Cache blog, still remains in RAM. They aren’t grabbing the specific key bits, but recreating it from all this redundant information in memory. At best, Frozen Cache is attempting to build a ‘ghetto crypto co-processor’.

We stand by our initial response to the cold boot attacks: It’s going to take a fundamental redesign of RAM before this is solved.

[via Slashdot]

HOPE 2008: Cold boot attack tools released

The team from Princeton has released their cold boot attack tools at The Last HOPE. Earlier this year they showed how to recover crypto keys from the memory of a machine that had been powered off. Now they’ve provided the tools necessary to acquire and play around with your own memory dumps. The bios_memimage tool is written in C and uses PXE to boot the machine and copy the memory. The package also has a disk boot dumper with instructions for how to run it on an iPod. There’s also efi_memimage which implements the BSD TCP/IP stack in EFI, but it can be problematic. aeskeyfind can recover 128 and 256bit AES keys from the memory dumps and rsakeyfind does the same for RSA. They’ve also provided aesfix to correct up to 15% of a key. In testing, they only ever saw 0.1% error in there memory dumps and 0.01% if they cooled the chips first.

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Cold boot encryption attack video

We haven’t made a regular habit of watching BoingBoing TV, but lately they’ve been covering topics we’ve been interested in… not the dolphin pr0n. In yesterday’s episode they talked to Jacob Appelbaum and members of the EFF about the cold boot encryption attack. The attack involves dumping the contents of memory to a storage device by power cycling the system. Cooling the memory chip with compressed air helps preserve the integrity of the data. The attacker can then search the data to find encryption keys protecting the contents of the hard drive. A fool proof solution to mitigate this attack hasn’t been developed yet. You can read more about cold boot attacks at the Center for Information Technology Policy. The BoingBoing TV episode, bizarre editing and all, can be downloaded directly here.