Among the new tools that threat actors are using to subvert the best defenses money can buy, you’ll find memory hacking. It’s a versatile technique that attackers are using to exploit known and zero-day vulnerabilities across many different types of IT systems.
Memory hackers can do everything from bypassing password verification to stealing data from DRAM chips. They can also use tools like rowhammer attacks to change or corrupt DRAM bits in a targeted way.
During their various stages of an attack lifecycle, threat actors use process memory as part of their arsenal. They use it for reconnaissance, persistence, defense evasion and credential access.
There are two basic ways to exploit a memory device: stack and heap-based methods. The former involves sending data to a program and storing it in a too-small stack buffer. The latter uses code to corrupt data in the memory’s heap.
This isn’t as simple as it sounds, but it can be a lot more fun than you think. For example, this machine-learning-assisted attack monitors events that interrupt a computer’s other processes and determines the website a user is browsing with almost perfect accuracy. It’s also the oh-so-easy way to leak information and make your adversary rethink the importance of security in their own business. The best part is that you don’t even need to be a nerd to do it. Just use the right tools and you’ll be on your way to a more secure system in no time.
The memory in computers stores both data that you want to keep track of, and instructions that tell the computer how to do what it’s doing. Having both stored in the same place was an early design decision that made sense at the time.
Now, though, the memory of most computing devices has become a target for a new class of hacking attacks that threat actors are using to subvert traditional IT security systems. These tools pivot off a number of well-known vulnerabilities – buffer overflow, stack exhaustion, DLL injections and so on – that are largely untouched by traditional defenses.
The memory-hacking techniques are particularly suited to privileged accounts, or logons that give system administrators or senior managers access to sensitive systems and databases. The stolen credentials are then plugged into full array system administration tools that run in memory, allowing the attacker to gain persistence on the target network without any traces of activity lingering.
3. Rehearse again
As the threat landscape evolves, memory hackers have quietly emerged as a new class of hacking specialists who are using this emerging technique to gain footholds, move laterally and achieve persistence deep inside well-defended enterprise networks. In particular, these attacks pivot off what Microsoft calls memory safety issues, such as buffer overflow, stack exhaustion, DLL injections and side channel attacks.
In NOVA: Memory Hackers, viewers see the latest scientific advances in this field, including how psychologists are planting false memories in patients, and neuroscientists can both erase and “incept” memories in mice. It also explores the significance of hacking in organizations and modern society.
In addition to analyzing how memory hacking works, the program details two real-life examples of this technique in action. One exploit involves a bit flip attack that can be used to steal user privileges on compromised computers. The other uses a technique known as RAMBleed to manipulate a victim’s memory layout.
4. Rehearse again
For the memory junkies out there, one of the coolest things about computers is that they allow you to do stuff like change the color of a room or manipulate the contents of a game’s memory. This is a great way to get the most out of your gaming time and improve your overall experience. It can be as simple as spicing up your favourite video game using a tool such as Cheat Engine or more complex tricks like reprogramming the CPU or hacking a console emulator. NOVA’s memory hacking show features some of the world’s top scientists who have made the best use of these new technologies to help us understand our brains better. The program will also reveal the best way to keep your memories safe and sound.