Fabrication attacks: Zero-overhead malicious modifications enabling modern microprocessor privilege escalation

Nektarios Georgios Tsoutsos, Michail Maniatakos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The wide deployment of general purpose and embedded microprocessors has emphasized the need for defenses against cyber-attacks. Due to the globalized supply chain, however, there are several stages where a processor can be maliciously modified. The most promising stage, and the hardest during which to inject the hardware trojan, is the fabrication stage. As modern microprocessor chips are characterized by very dense, billion-transistor designs, such attacks must be very carefully crafted. In this paper, we demonstrate zero overhead malicious modifications on both high-performance and embedded microprocessors. These hardware trojans enable privilege escalation through execution of an instruction stream that excites the necessary conditions to make the modification appear. The minimal footprint, however, comes at the cost of a small window of attack opportunities. Experimental results show that malicious users can gain escalated privileges within a few million clock cycles. In addition, no system crashes were reported during normal operation, rendering the modifications transparent to the end user.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6646239
Pages (from-to)81-93
Number of pages13
JournalIEEE Transactions on Emerging Topics in Computing
Volume2
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2014

Keywords

  • Hardware trojans
  • fabrication attacks
  • malicious modification
  • microprocessors
  • privilege escalation
  • zero overhead

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Information Systems
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Science Applications

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