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The phone lights up and buzzes against the table. The news app notification pops up on the screen alerting the public of a recent cybersecurity threat. That constant fear that nothing we keep on our computers stays private is becoming more and more of a reality. According to a Clark School study done at the University of Maryland, a person gets hacked every 39 seconds if they have internet connection. Knowing that information, we have to protect ourselves the best way we know how: through installing security software and activating our privacy settings. Yet, even when we go through those measures to protect ourselves, hackers still have the ability to tap into sensitive information through your computer.
In a recent research paper entitled “Page Cache Attacks”, Professor Ari Trachtenberg (ECE) and senior Trishita Tiwari (ECE) together with fellow researchers from Graz University of Technology, NetApp, CrowdStrike and Intel Corporation, discovered a new vulnerability in Windows and Linux operating systems. Through a side-channel attack, that targets operating system’s page cache, they managed to access sensitive information on the computer. The vulnerability proved to be hardware-agnostic, that is independent of the hardware on which the operating system runs (Intel, AMD, etc.). The system’s page cache holds a plethora of information such as program binary files, shared libraries and disk backed pages. This opens up new possibilities for malicious hackers to expose delicate information in the future. The team suggested mitigations for a few of their attacks to the operating system vendors. This will hopefully spark new cybersecurity defenses that will prevent future attacks, such as the one described in this article, from happening.
Ari Trachtenberg is a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and hold affiliations with Computer Science, System Engineering, and Boston University’s RISCS and CISE centers. In 2016, Professor Trachtenberg was a Distinguished Scientist Visitor at Ben Gurion University, and also a Visiting Professor at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. He has been awarded an NSF CAREER Award, the ECE Award for Excellence in Teaching, and was a BU College of Engineering Innovative Engineering Education Faculty. His areas of interest focus on cybersecurity, networking, algorithms and error-correcting codes. His contributions to the new discovery of page cache attacks can be found in his research article, here.