University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Computer Laboratory Security Seminar > Thunderclap: Exploring Vulnerabilities Operating System IOMMU Protection via DMA from Untrustworthy Peripherals

Thunderclap: Exploring Vulnerabilities Operating System IOMMU Protection via DMA from Untrustworthy Peripherals

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Note: This is a practice talk for NDSS (~20min)

Direct Memory Access (DMA) attacks have been known for many years: DMA enabled I/O peripherals have complete access to the state of a computer and can fully compromise it including reading and writing all of system memory. With the popularity of Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type-C and smart internal devices, opportunities for these attacks to be performed casually with only seconds of physical access to a computer have greatly broadened. In response, commodity hardware and operating system (OS) vendors have incorporated support for Input-Ouptut Memory Management Units (IOMMUs), which impose memory protection on DMA , and are widely believed to protect against DMA attacks.

We investigate the state-of-the-art in IOMMU protection across OSes using a novel I/O-security research platform, and find that current protections fall short when faced with a functional network peripheral that uses its complex interactions with the OS for ill intent. We describe vulnerabilities in macOS, FreeBSD, and Linux, which notionally utilize IOMM Us to protect against DMA attackers. Windows uses the IOMMU only in limited cases. and it remains vulnerable. Using Thunderclap, an open-source FPGA research platform that we built, we explore new classes of OS vulnerability arising from inadequate use of the IOMMU . The complex vulnerability space for IOMMU -exposed shared memory available to DMA -enabled peripherals allows attackers to extract private data (sniffing cleartext VPN traffic) and hijack kernel control flow (launching a root shell) in seconds using devices such as USB -C projectors or power adapters. We have worked closely with OS vendors to remedy these vulnerability classes, and they have now shipped substantial feature improvements and mitigations as a result of our work.

This talk is part of the Computer Laboratory Security Seminar series.

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