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Cloud Security Reaches Silicon

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A new memory-access protocol assigns every memory address to a single path (green) through a data structure known as a tree, but a given node of the tree will often lie along multiple paths (blue).

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working to implement a new memory-access protocol that could help thwart one variety of cyberattack.

Credit: Christine Daniloff/MIT

Two years ago, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers proposed a method for thwarting attacks in which criminals infer computer data based on the pattern in which the machine accesses its memory, and now they have begun to implement it in hardware.

The researchers have developed the layout of a custom-built chip that would use their scheme, and are now moving the system toward fabrication.

The scheme involves confusing adversaries by querying several memory addresses at once to hide the source of the data. However, this process requires transferring much more data between the chip and memory than would otherwise be necessary. In order to minimize the amount of extra data needed, the technique stores memory addresses in a tree data structure, and every address is randomly assigned to a path through the tree. When the chip requires the data stored in a particular address, it also requests data from all the other nodes on the same path.

The researchers proved that pulling data from a single path was just as confusing to hackers as if the chip had pulled data from every memory address in use. The researchers gave the new chip an extra memory circuit, with storage slots that can be mapped onto the sequence of nodes in any path through the tree.

From MIT News
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