New hacking technique imperceptibly changes memory virtual servers
For the first time ever a team of Dutch hacking experts, led by cyber security professor Herbert Bos, managed to alter the memory of virtual machines in the cloud without a software bug, using a new attack technique.
With this technique an attacker can crack the keys of secured virtual machines or install malware without it being noticed. It’s a new deduplication-based attack in which data can not only be viewed and leaked, but also modified using a hardware glitch. By doing so the attacker can order the server to install malicious and unwanted software or allow logins by unauthorized persons.
Deduplicationand Rowhammer bug
With the new attack technique Flip Feng Shui (FSS), an attacker rents a virtual machine on the same host as the victim. This can be done by renting many virtual machines until one of them lands next to the victim. A virtual machine in the cloud is often used to run applications, test new software, or run a website. There are public (for everyone), community (for a select group) and private (for one organization accessible) clouds. The attacker writes a memory page that he knows exists in the victim on the vulnerable memory location and lets it deduplicate. As a result, the identical pages will be merged into one in order to save space (the information is, after all, the same). That page is stored in the same part of the memory of the physical computer. The attacker can now modify the information in the general memory of the computer. This can be done by triggering a hardware bug dubbed Rowhammer, which causes flip bits from 0 to 1 or vice versa, to seek out the vulnerable memory cells and change them.
The researchers of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, who worked together with a researcher from the Catholic University of Leuven, describe in their research two attacks on the operating systems Debian and Ubuntu. The first FFS attack gained access to the virtual machines through weakening OpenSSH public keys. The attacker did this by changing the victim’s public key with one bit. In the second attack, the settings of the software management application apt were adjusted by making minor changes to the URL from where apt downloads software. The server could then install malware that presents itself as a software update. The integrity check could be circumvented by making a small change to the public key that verifies the integrity of the apt-get software packages.
Debian, Ubuntu, OpenSSH and other companies included in the research were notified before the publication and all have responded. The National Cyber Security Centre (NSCS) of the Dutch government has issued a fact sheet containing information and advice on FFS.
Detecting pesticides and nerve gas in very low concentrations? An international team of researchers led by Ivo Stassen and Rob Ameloot from KU Leuven have made it possible.
The best-known electronic nose is the breathalyser. As drivers breathe into the device, a chemical sensor measures the amount of alcohol in their breath. This chemical reaction is then converted into an electronic signal, allowing the police officer to read off the result. Alcohol is easy to detect, because the chemical reaction is specific and the concentration of the measured gas is fairly high. But many other gases are complex mixtures of molecules in very low concentrations. Building electronic noses to detect them is thus quite a challenge.
This is the most sensitive sensor ever created for pesticides and nerve gas.
Researchers from KU Leuven have now built a very sensitive electronic nose with metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). “MOFs are like microscopic sponges,” postdoctoral researcher Ivo Stassen explains. “They can absorb quite a lot of gas into their minuscule pores.”
The Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Dutch for Catholic University of Leuven; not generally translated to English) (Dutch pronunciation: [katoˈlikə univɛrsiˈtɛit ˈløːvə(n)], also known as KU Leuven or University of Leuven is a Dutch-speaking university in Leuven, Flanders, Belgium.
It is located in the centre of the historic town of Leuven, home to the university since 1425. In 1968 the Catholic University of Leuven, considered Belgium’s oldest university, split into the Dutch-language Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and the French-language Université catholique de Louvain, which moved to Louvain-la-Neuve in Wallonia. Since the fifteenth century, Louvain, as it is still often called, has been a major contributor to the development of Catholic theology. It is considered the oldest Catholic university still in existence.
With 41,255 students in 2012–2013, the KU Leuven is the largest university in Belgium and the Low Countries. In addition to its primary campus in Leuven, it has satellite campuses in Kortrijk (‘KULAK’), Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, Ostend, Geel, Diepenbeek, Aalst, Sint-Katelijne-Waver and in Belgium’s capital Brussels. The university now also offers several programs in English.
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Researchers from KU Leuven and the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology have managed to erase unpleasant memories in mice using a ‘genetic switch’. Their findings were published in Biological Psychiatry.
Dementia, accidents, or traumatic events can make us lose the memories formed before the injury or the onset of the disease. Researchers from KU Leuven and the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology have now shown that some memories can also be erased when one particular gene is switched off.
The team trained mice that had been genetically modified in one single gene: NPTN. This gene, which is investigated by only a few groups in the world, is very important for brain plasticity. In humans, changes in the regulation of the NPTN gene have recently been linked to decreased intellectual abilities and schizophrenia.
In the reported study, the mice were trained to move from one side of a box to the other as soon as a lamp lights up, thus avoiding a foot stimulus. This learning process is called associative learning. Its most famous example is Pavlov’s dog: conditioned to associate the sound of a bell with getting food, the dog starts salivating whenever it hears a bell.
Deactivating one single gene is enough to erase associative memories.
Researchers from KU Leuven, the University of Strasbourg, and CNRS have discovered a new phosphor that could make next-generation fluorescent and LED lighting even cheaper and more efficient. The team used highly luminescent clusters of silver atoms and the porous framework of minerals known as zeolites.
Silver clusters consist of just a few silver atoms and have remarkable optical properties. However, current applications are limited, because the clusters tend to aggregate into larger particles, thus losing the interesting optical properties.
Professor Hofkens and his team from the Molecular Imaging and Photonics Unit have now found a way to keep the silver clusters apart by inserting them into the porous framework of zeolites. The result: stable silver clusters that maintain their unique optical properties.
The toxic and expensive phosphors used widely in fluorescent lighting could be eliminated thanks to a new study conducted by a materials scientist at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).
Writing in the journal Nature Materials, the international group of scientists modified a mineral called zeolite, more commonly found in washing powder, to incorporate tiny clusters of silver atoms.
At this very small scale (less than 10 atoms), the silver clusters act very differently and can even emit light.
Lead author Dr Oliver Fenwick from QMUL’s School of Engineering and Materials Science, said: “We’ve shown that silver atoms can be assembled in the porous framework of minerals known as zeolites with a level of control not reported previously. This has allowed us to tailor very precisely the properties of the silver clusters to meet our needs – in this case an efficient phosphor.
“The high efficiency of the materials along with cheap, scalable synthesis makes them very attractive as next generation emitters for fluorescent lamps, LEDs and for biological imaging, for example for highlighting tumours or cell division.”