back to article Boffins promise protection and perfect performance with new ZeRØ, No-FAT memory safety techniques

Researchers at the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science have showcased two new approaches to providing computers with memory protection without sacrificing performance – and they're being implemented in silicon by the US Air Force Research Lab. Modern processors are things of magic, but like any magic …

  1. Pete B

    Ransomware is currently impacting businesses all across the globe and is getting out of hand," ESET UK cybersecurity expert Jake Moore told The Register.

    Is there any evidence that any ransomware attack has been carried out using this technique? 99% of them always see to start with tricking a user into clicking on a link, or opening a document, so surely this is the place to invest time and effort - ie user training. The problem always seems to be that in most places there is little if any sanction against the person who actually caused the problem, so little incentive for users to get it right.

    1. Jim Mitchell Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Yeah, wasn't there an article on El Reg just this week on how there have no zero known cases of these spectre/meltdown issues being exploited in the real world?

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Because as was obvious at the time of release, Spectre and meltdown are really serious issues if you are running a cloud, but irrelevant if your running a server because by the time somebody can run the code your screwed anyway.

    2. martinusher Silver badge

      Its odd that nobody addresses the elephant in the room (kitchen?) -- even though we know better we allow active content to be introduced from outside onto corporate networks. There should be absolutely no way that clicking on a link or opening a document should provide a pathway for malware to infect a system and the fact that it does speaks volumes about our business software and how we use it. Dumping on the person who got it wrong this time isn't going to fix the problem. Its a bit like allowing smoking in a fireworks factory and then firing what's left of the person who's deemed responsible for blowing the place up.

      Most email traffic should be in plain text -- if there's a link in the text then it can be opened separately once its been checked to see if its safe and if its relevant to the content of the message. Documents need to be exchanged in a form that precludes active content, especially remote downloadable content. I know this goes against the entire Microsoft philosophy of doing stuff but until their code is guaranteed bulletproof then it has to be treated as untrustworthy.

      1. Denarius Silver badge

        isolation

        YES, YES. That is all

      2. Peter2 Silver badge

        There are plenty of ways of doing this. Like many other people I am blocking my users from receiving programs, and also blocking them from running them just for good measure. You can actually stop office/adobe from running unauthorised scripts using group policy options available free of charge across your entire network in mere minutes.

        However after a certain point one gets bored of arguing with people who want their systems configured to run everything, and then act surprised that eventually something runs that they didn't want that screws up everything on their network.

    3. MJB7

      User Training

      User training is an excellent idea, but repercussions for the one person who happened to click on a malware link is pointless. For one thing it's too late - you've still suffered the attack, for another too many people are likely to click - it's that you've got to change.

      1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: User Training

        > it's that you've got to change

        CAREFUL! Wokesters will complain if you do so without cossetting their pwecious pwecious sense of Safe Space.

        Here's an example where Head of IT came close to being fired for performing pre-advised Phishing Education.

    4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      As I noted in a comment on an article yesterday, not only is it impossible to prove that no attack of type X has been carried out using a microarchitectural exploit, it's impossible to even make any sensible statement about how likely it is. Microarchitectural information-disclosure attacks are not detectable in general without extensive and continuous scrutiny, and no one does that. So all such statements about "no evidence Spectre-class attacks have been used" are useless.

      That said, you're correct that there's no reason to believe there's any association between microarchitectural attacks and ransomware.

      But that said, these "memory safety" techniques appear (I haven't read the papers yet, and I'm not going to watch the videos; I hate those things) to have much broader application than thwarting information disclosure through microarchitectural side channels. In fact, my impression from the article is that's rather a peripheral benefit (and it's going to be limited) that's been touted for publicity.

      But that said, improved memory safety could be a useful mitigation for a wide range of vulnerabilities, which means it could help reduce exposure to at least some of the current crop of exploits. It might even make anti-malware software more successful (there's nowhere to go but up with that rubbish), which could help with some kinds of attacks that require user intervention.

      So the quote from Moore isn't completely irrelevant, just mostly.

  2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Re .... Real World Exploits in the Making for the Taking and Mentoring and Monitoring

    In the years since their disclosure, fixes for Spectre, Meltdown, and a whole host of related vulnerabilities have been released. For some workloads, though, the cure can be worse than the disease: a report released this week found specific workloads running 1.6-2x slower than on the same platform without the fixes in place.

    Ah yes..... for some on specific workload platforms more an unexpected unusual rather than unintended consequence of certain peculiar particular vulnerabilities released and prime active in the wild and widely available for engagement and exercise, and if one is into money-making business cycles and fiat profit and loss account churn, lend-lease hire and stealthy deployment ....... virtually remote globalised presentation .... and AI Realisation/SMARTR Machine Production.

    To consider its platforming workloads composite parts in a Sublime Program is only to scratch at the surface of what IT surely is.

    Have you had any marvellous encounters with it yet ..... or are you waiting on it to lead further ahead and away out in front as if virtually alone and on its lonesome. Don't be betting on that being a successful strategy. You'll lose all of your shirts and much more besides.

  3. nematoad Silver badge
    Headmaster

    It make you weep.

    "...but the real proof is in the pudding,"

    Arggh! No, No, No.

    It's not in the pudding, you idiot, It's in the eating thereof.

    How else are you going to find out the quality? Interview the bloody thing?

    I know. Pedantry rears its ugly head again but I do wish that when "experts" make a public statement they actually quote the saying correctly.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: It make you weep.

      I know. Pedantry rears its ugly head again but I do wish that when "experts" make a public statement they actually quote the saying correctly.

      Some experts will, but only those expert in the subject of sayings.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: It make you weep.

      Yeah, if you're not going to get it right, you may as well throw out the whole kitten caboodle with the bath. And don't wait for the editor to do it – a stitch in time saves mine!

      Of course you can take any guideline too far. The exception proves the rule.

  4. bigtreeman

    more smaller safer faster better

    Memory protection and multitasking is an old 'mainframe' paradigm,

    Now smaller processors are ubiquitous why multitask ?

    We can afford a processor for each process.

    Remove the complication of memory partitioning and checking.

    When we see fuel supply interruption because of ransomware,

    we just have to ask why those business processes haven't been compartmentalised and air gapped.

    They deserve to be hacked if their critical tasks are being carried out on the same systems where idiot office assistants are wasting their time on Facebook, looking at porn and being tricked with social engineering answering fake emails.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: more smaller safer faster better

      We can afford a processor for each process.

      Utter nonsense. My laptop is basically idle at the moment – no builds or other big jobs running – and I keep things pretty stripped down, with all sorts of optional "features" disabled. It still has over 300 processes running.

      Even in the 1980s on a typical single-human-user UNIX workstation I'd have several dozen processes in memory, and the run queue would frequently climb to half a dozen or so.

  5. rcxb Silver badge
    Joke

    Obligatory

    ZeRØ provides protection with zero measured performance loss – hence the name.

    Wi nøt trei a høliday in Sweden this yër?

  6. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    But NOT free...

    I created a proposal that would fix this with not speed loss as well--it added a boatload of complexity.

    I'm betting this does as well.

    I'm going to try to read the paper, I'm not getting my hopes up.

  7. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    Not clear that ZerO does anything for Spectre

    After that, it looks mostly like tagging code & data per cache line instead of per page & adding instructions to pay attention.

    That in turn requires updating the OS & compilers to signal what are the code pointers in a program.

    Not a bad idea, probably. So long as it is easy to know which are code pointers. (Hint: think about a UTM & the halting problem).

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