TRESOR-HUNT: Attacking CPU-Bound Encryption

Erik-Oliver Blass, William Robertson
In Proceedings of the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC)


Hard disk encryption is known to be vulnerable to a number of attacks that aim to directly extract cryptographic key material from system memory. Several approaches to preventing this class of attacks have been proposed, including TRESOR and LoopAmnesia. The common goal of these systems is to confine the encryption key and encryption process itself to the CPU, such that sensitive key material is never released into system memory where it could be accessed by a DMA attack.

In this work, we demonstrate that these systems are nevertheless vulnerable to such DMA attacks. Our attack, which we call TRESOR-HUNT, relies on the insight that DMA-capable adversaries are not restricted to simply reading physical memory, but can write arbitrary values to memory as well. TRESOR-HUNT leverages this insight to inject a ring 0 attack payload that extracts disk encryption keys from the CPU into the target system’s memory, from which it can be retrieved using a normal DMA transfer.

Our implementation of this attack demonstrates that it can be constructed in a reliable and OS-independent manner that is applicable to any CPU-bound encryption technique, IA32-based system, and DMA-capable peripheral bus. Furthermore, it does not crash the target system or otherwise significantly compromise its integrity. Our evaluation supports the OS-independent nature of the attack, as well as its feasibility in real-world scenarios. Finally, we discuss several countermeasures that might be adopted to mitigate this attack and render CPU-bound encryption systems viable.