Researchers Working Toward Processor-Specific Attacks

The last two decades have been a cake walk for malware authors. More than nine-tenths of the world’s computers run some variation of the same operating system – Microsoft’s Windows.

Processor bugThe last two decades have been a cake walk for malware authors. More than nine-tenths of the world’s computers run some variation of the same operating system – Microsoft’s Windows. A similarly sized super-majority use an array of applications from the same vendor: Microsoft Office, the Internet Explorer Web browser and Outlook e-mail client. As a result, writing malicious code that had a good chance of finding a vulnerable target system has been a trivial matter.

Alas, the next twenty years aren’t likely to be as straightforward. The Windows market share is slipping – albeit slowly – as rivals like Mac and Linux gain adherents and, especially, as users shift from desktop PCs to mobile devices running Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, RIM’s Blackberry, and so on. Similar declines are being recorded in the market share of Office, IE and other Microsoft mainstays.

With the disappearance of an OS monoculture, attackers would do well to find attacks that are neither OS or application specific. One way to do that, of course, is to target attacks at hardware, rather than software. Now research out of Frances  Ecole Superiore d’Informatique, Electronique, Automatique (ESIEA) moves a step closer to that goal: identifying a method for isolating the processor used by anonymous systems for the purpose of subverting that hardware.

A post on the blog of MIT’s Technology Review, notes this recent paper by Anthony Desnos, Robert Erra and Eric Filiol of ESIEA. The research tackles a foundational problem for anyone looking to target attacks at processors: figuring out which processor a particular system is using. To do this, the authors devised a method of using Floating Point Arithmetic to fingerprint specific processors by identifying the limitations of those processors and the ways that they have been programmed to manage those limitations. 

Noting the now infamous case of the floating point bug in Pentium processors, the researchers generalize that each processor and family of processors betrays its identity through the algorithms it uses to perform basic calculation functions, including floating point arithmetic.

By observing the output of a variety of processors to a set of mathematical tests, the researchers were able to consistently identify subclasses of processors, including those by Intel, AMD, etc.

The researchers claim to be working on a tool, dubbed Proc_Scope that will use specific numerical expressions to identify the processor type, and to be working on an algorithm that can help identify a specific processor.

Suggested articles

Survey Shows Most Flaws Sold For $5,000 Or Less

A new survey, which may be the first of its kind, has looked at the relative trustworthiness and responsiveness of the various organizations that buy vulnerabilities and found that TippingPoint’s Zero Day Initiative is rated by researchers as the most trustworthy and is the preferred buyer.

Discussion

  • Expatriate American Patriot on

    > Alas, the next twenty years aren't likely to be as straightforward. The Windows market share is slipping - albeit slowly... Similar declines are being recorded in the market share of Office, IE and other Microsoft mainstays.... With the disappearance of an OS monoculture

    This wishful thinking leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Kaspersky Lab is a russian company. Just Soviet Russia always hoped for the disappearence of capitalism and USA and even wanted to "bury them alive" in Mr. Khruschev's infamous words, similarly Kaspersky Lab is hoping for the end of Microsoft, it seems...

    This will not happen because Microsoft is an american company. USA is the most innovative, lively and richest country on Earth. Many think she was selected by the Lord to lead mankind towards salvation! Russia and China should not hate USA but accept her heavenly leadership!

    Bill Gates is known as a godly, philantropic person, so you should not wish bad for him! Microsoft must be a honest anglo-saxon, protestant company, because the Lord blesses them with large profits every year, which Kaspersky Lab can only dream about.

  • Anonymous on

    What the

  • Anonymous on

    lol Expatriate, Microsoft's platform has provided KL a pretty steady source of revenue.  :)

    God bless us all with many such profit!

  • Anonymous on

    remember kids, dont feed the trolls.

    obvious troll is obvious

    ....at least i hope for the sake of humanity that that's a troll

Subscribe to our newsletter, Threatpost Today!

Get the latest breaking news delivered daily to your inbox.