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New Rowhammer Technique

Rowhammer is an attack technique involving accessing — that’s “hammering” — rows of bits in memory, millions of times per second, with the intent of causing bits in neighboring rows to flip. This is a side-channel attack, and the result can be all sorts of mayhem.

Well, there is a new enhancement:

All previous Rowhammer attacks have hammered rows with uniform patterns, such as single-sided, double-sided, or n-sided. In all three cases, these “aggressor” rows — meaning those that cause bitflips in nearby “victim” rows — are accessed the same number of times.

Research published on Monday presented a new Rowhammer technique. It uses non-uniform patterns that access two or more aggressor rows with different frequencies. The result: all 40 of the randomly selected DIMMs in a test pool experienced bitflips, up from 13 out of 42 chips tested in previous work from the same researchers.


The non-uniform patterns work against Target Row Refresh. Abbreviated as TRR, the mitigation works differently from vendor to vendor but generally tracks the number of times a row is accessed and recharges neighboring victim rows when there are signs of abuse. The neutering of this defense puts further pressure on chipmakers to mitigate a class of attacks that many people thought more recent types of memory chips were resistant to.

Posted on November 19, 2021 at 8:31 AMView Comments

Is Microsoft Stealing People’s Bookmarks?

I received email from two people who told me that Microsoft Edge enabled synching without warning or consent, which means that Microsoft sucked up all of their bookmarks. Of course they can turn synching off, but it’s too late.

Has this happened to anyone else, or was this user error of some sort? If this is real, can some reporter write about it?

(Not that “user error” is a good justification. Any system where making a simple mistake means that you’ve forever lost your privacy isn’t a good one. We see this same situation with sharing contact lists with apps on smartphones. Apps will repeatedly ask, and only need you to accidentally click “okay” once.)

EDITED TO ADD: It’s actually worse than I thought. Edge urges users to store passwords, ID numbers, and even passport numbers, all of which get uploaded to Microsoft by default when synch is enabled.

Posted on November 17, 2021 at 7:53 AMView Comments

Wire Fraud Scam Upgraded with Bitcoin

The FBI has issued a bulletin describing a bitcoin variant of a wire fraud scam:

As the agency describes it, the scammer will contact their victim and somehow convince them that they need to send money, either with promises of love, further riches, or by impersonating an actual institution like a bank or utility company. After the mark is convinced, the scammer will have them get cash (sometimes out of investment or retirement accounts), and head to an ATM that sells cryptocurrencies and supports reading QR codes. Once the victim’s there, they’ll scan a QR code that the scammer sent them, which will tell the machine to send any crypto purchased to the scammer’s address. Just like that, the victim loses their money, and the scammer has successfully exploited them.


The “upgrade” (as it were) for scammers with the crypto ATM method is two-fold: it can be less friction than sending a wire transfer, and at the end the scammer has cryptocurrency instead of fiat. With wire transfers, you have to fill out a form, and you may give that form to an actual person (who could potentially vibe check you). Using the ATM method, there’s less time to reflect on the fact that you’re about to send money to a stranger. And, if you’re a criminal trying to get your hands on Bitcoin, you won’t have to teach your targets how to buy coins on the internet and transfer them to another wallet — they probably already know how to use an ATM and scan a QR code.

Posted on November 16, 2021 at 6:18 AMView Comments

Why I Hate Password Rules

The other day, I was creating a new account on the web. It was financial in nature, which means it gets one of my most secure passwords. I used Password Safe to generate this 16-character alphanumeric password:


Which was rejected by the site, because it didn’t meet its password security rules.

It took me a minute to figure out what was wrong with it. The site wanted at least two numbers.


Okay, that’s not really why I don’t like password rules. I don’t like them because they’re all different. Even if someone has a strong password generation system, it is likely that whatever they come up with won’t pass somebody’s ruleset.

Posted on November 16, 2021 at 5:33 AMView Comments

Book Sale: Click Here to Kill Everybody and Data and Goliath

For a limited time, I am selling signed copies of Click Here to Kill Everybody and Data and Goliath, both in paperback, for just $6 each plus shipping.

I have 500 copies of each book available. When they’re gone, the sale is over and the price will revert to normal.

Order here and here.

Please be patient on delivery. It’s a lot of work to sign and mail hundreds of books. And the pandemic is causing mail slowdowns all over the world. I’ll send them out as quickly as I can, but I can’t guarantee any particular delivery date. Also, signed but not personalized books will arrive faster.

EDITED TO ADD (11/17): I am sold out. The sale is over.

Posted on November 15, 2021 at 2:34 PMView Comments

MacOS Zero-Day Used against Hong Kong Activists

Google researchers discovered a MacOS zero-day exploit being used against Hong Kong activists. It was a “watering hole” attack, which means the malware was hidden in a legitimate website. Users visiting that website would get infected.

From an article:

Google’s researchers were able to trigger the exploits and study them by visiting the websites compromised by the hackers. The sites served both iOS and MacOS exploit chains, but the researchers were only able to retrieve the MacOS one. The zero-day exploit was similar to another in-the-wild vulnerability analyzed by another Google researcher in the past, according to the report.

In addition, the zero-day exploit used in this hacking campaign is “identical” to an exploit previously found by cybersecurity research group Pangu Lab, Huntley said. Pangu Lab’s researchers presented the exploit at a security conference in China in April of this year, a few months before hackers used it against Hong Kong users.

The exploit was discovered in August. Apple patched the vulnerability in September. China is, of course, the obvious suspect, given the victims.

EDITED TO ADD (11/15): Another story.

Posted on November 12, 2021 at 9:07 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.