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New hardware-agnostic side-channel attack works against Windows and Linux

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A team of five academics and security researchers has published a research paper today detailing a new side-channel attack that effective against operating systems like Windows and Linux.

The novelty in this paper is that unlike many of the previous side-channel attacks [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6], this one is hardware-agnostic, and in some cases, it can be carried out remotely.

The attack is also different because it doesn’t target microarchitectural design flaws in CPUs or other computer components, but targets the operating system itself, hence the reason it is hardware-agnostic.

Attack targets OS page caches

More precisely, the attack targets “page caches,” a technical term used to describe a portion of the memory where the operating system loads code that’s currently used by one or more applications, such as executables, libraries, and user data.

These page caches are pure-software caches being controlled at the OS level, rather than classic hardware caches, which are dedicated memory that the CPU can use to improve its computational speed.

“Some of these [page] caches have very specific use-cases, such as browser caches used for website content; other [page] caches are more generic, such as the page cache that stores a large portion of code and data used,” said the research team in their paper.

The side-channel attack described by the research team works by first abusing mechanisms included in the Windows and Linux operating systems that allow a developer/application to check if a memory page is present in the OS page cache. These two mechanisms are the “mincore” system call for Linux and the “QueryWorkingSetEx” system call for Windows.

Researchers then use their ability to interact with the OS (through a malicious process running on the system) to create page cache eviction states that release old memory pages out of the OS page cache. As the OS page cache system writes the evicted data to disk, triggers various errors, or loads new pages into the page cache, researchers say they can deduce what data was being processed in the OS page cache, even by other processes/applications.

Furthermore, another added benefit is that unlike most previous side-channel attacks, this new attack can also recover large quantities of data at a time, making it ideal for real-world attacks.

Researchers say their “side-channel permits unprivileged monitoring of some memory accesses of other processes, with a spatial resolution of 4 kB and a temporal resolution of 2 μs on Linux (restricted to 6.7 measurements per second) and 466 ns on Windows (restricted to 223 measurements per second).”

Translated into lay terms, this “allows capturing more than 6 keystrokes per second, enough to capture keystrokes accurately,” researchers said.

Attack can be hardware-agnostic or remote

The side-channel attack described in their paper can be used to bypass security sandboxes, redress (reshape) user interfaces, and capture keystrokes.

All of the attacks listed above are possible in “local” exploitation scenarios, where an unprivileged process runs malicious code on a targeted computer.

The attack can also be modified to work in a “remote” exploitation scenario, where an attacker bombards a remote PC with malicious code to retrieve data from its memory.

However, remote attacks aren’t as efficient because they can’t bypass sandboxes and because they require fine-tuning based on the victim’s hardware (they are not hardware-agnostic as the local attacks).

Patches for Windows and Linux are in the works

The research team, which includes some of the brightest minds in IT security, including some of the people behind the Spectre/Meltdown vulnerabilities, have contacted OS vendors prior to disclosing their findings.

Microsoft has already fixed the way Windows deals with page cache reads in a Windows Insiders build, while discussions on how to deal with Linux patches are still ongoing. Both OS teams are expected to fix the issues at the heart of this side-channel attack in the future.

“We didn’t test macOS,” Daniel Gruss, one of the researchers told ZDNet in an email today. “We don’t know whether they expose any such interface that we used in our hardware-agnostic attacks, but certainly, as they also use a page cache, they would also be vulnerable to timing-based page cache attacks.”

This article tried to describe this attack in simple terms. For our technical readers, more details about this new side-channel attack are available in the research paper titled “Page Cache Attacks” that was published earlier today on ArXiv.

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Key Criteria for Evaluating Unified Endpoint Management

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Endpoint management is one of the most significant challenges in the enterprise today. An increasingly large percentage of our workforce is distributed and demands flexibility to work wherever they want, whenever they want. We must respond by giving them access to the services they require to do their jobs effectively. The alternative is that we, as a business, will suffer, lose good people, and become less competitive. However, we must achieve this essential access while maintaining security and control of our business’s data assets.

An appropriate endpoint management strategy is key to addressing these issues. Our approach should be holistic and unified, bringing together control of devices, management of applications, security of data, and access controls.

Unified endpoint management (UEM) is the approach to meeting this challenge. It has evolved from traditionally disparate solutions for endpoint management, application delivery, and security into a single platform. This single platform delivers a consistent end-user experience across all devices, applications, and locations while maintaining security and control of data assets. The leading solutions allow us to enroll devices easily into our control, provide support, and ensure constituency and compliance while managing access to our applications and data.

This GigaOM Key Criteria Report describes UEM solutions and identifies key criteria and evaluation metrics for selecting such a solution. The corresponding GigaOm Radar Report identifies vendors and products that excel in this sector. Together, these reports give decision-makers an overview of the market to help them evaluate existing platforms and decide where to invest.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

The post Key Criteria for Evaluating Unified Endpoint Management appeared first on Gigaom.

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Data Storage for Ever Changing Business Needs

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Join GigaOm analyst Enrico Signoretti and CTERA CTO Aron Brand in this one-hour live webinar as they explore file storage trends and dynamics through the lens of IT infrastructure modernization projects.

The file and cloud experts will discuss the limitations of traditional NAS architectures in today’s corporate environments and how organizations are implementing distributed cloud file storage to solve remote collaboration, ransomware protection, and unstructured data growth challenges.

Signoretti and Brand will also examine the recently published GigaOm Radar for Distributed Cloud File Storage, in which CTERA was named the leader. They will review the report’s key criteria and evaluation metrics for choosing a distributed cloud file storage platform, helping IT leaders to understand which vendors are most aligned to their needs today as well as 12-18 months down the road.

The post Data Storage for Ever Changing Business Needs appeared first on Gigaom.

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High Performance Application Security Testing – Cloud WAF Security Platforms

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This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research features analyst Jake Dolezal and will focus on comparing Web Application Firewall (WAF) security platforms in an enterprise with high performance needs.

This webinar will discuss web application security mechanisms deployed in the cloud. The cloud enables enterprises to differentiate and innovate with microservices at a rapid pace. However, the cloud is just as vulnerable, if not more so, to attacks and breaches as on-premises APIs and apps are. Our focus is specifically on approaches to securing apps, APIs, and microservices that are tuned for high performance and availability. We define “high performance” as companies that experience workloads of more than 1,000 transactions per second (tps) and require a maximum latency below 30 milliseconds across the landscape.

In this webinar, we will reveal the performance tests of security mechanisms on NGINX, AWS, and Azure, specifically: ModSecurity, NGINX App Protect WAF, AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF), and Azure WAF.

Register now to join GigaOm and NGINX for this free expert webinar.

The post High Performance Application Security Testing – Cloud WAF Security Platforms appeared first on Gigaom.

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