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FuturePlus SystemsOct 6, 2020 6:45:18 PM1 min read

The Threat That Just Keeps Getting Bigger: DRAM Row Hammer

One of the more recent papers from Carnegie Mellon University and ETH Zurich tries to forewarn the tech industry about the prevalence of DRAM Row Hammer failures and lay out possible strategies to combat it. The testing they performed of the DRAM devices (DDR3, DDR4, and LPDDR4) helped to illustrate the magnitude of this error which appears to get worse for newer technologies. This means that Row Hammer is a problem that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Row Hammer is an electrostatic interference glitch that affects nearby cells and causes what is called "bit flips". A bit flip in turn makes a "zero" into a "one" and vice versa.
This characterization study also explores the organization of the DRAM technology in order to thoroughly explain the Row Hammer error and give suggestions moving forward. The easiest suggestion included refreshing the memory more frequently which increases the charge of the victim row thus making it less susceptible to bit flips. But this suggestion takes a toll on power consumption and performance which is very important to data center operators. The other suggestion is to reconsider the design of DRAM at the component level which DRAM manufacturers are unwilling to do.
This in depth exploration helps readers understand the Row Hammer error a little better. It offers insight into the prevalence of the error in older technologies versus newer technologies. It also offers suggestions on how to mitigate the error. There are big risks with newer technologies having higher vulnerabilities to attacks such as Row Hammer. Hopefully as more research dives deep into this topic, more and more engineers will start to take this error seriously but until then, this error still poses a serious reliability and security threat.
Link to the study is found here.
#rowhammer, #DDR3, #DDR4, #JEDEC, #APMemory, #RAMBleed