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RAMpage exploit can affect millions of Android devices, but the odds are stacked against it

This year certainly hasn’t been short on security scares. We kicked off 2018 with Meltdown and Spectre, which affected a huge number of desktop CPUs and now on the smartphone side of things, we have RAMpage. Currently, RAMpage is thought to affect the vast majority of Android devices releases during or after 2012, due to how physically close RAM is on newer devices.

RAMpage was discovered by eight academics spread across three different universities. They released their official paper on the RAMpage exploit yesterday and Android Central went in-depth about what this exploit really means for Android users. RAMpage works by attacking part of the Android OS known as ION, which manages memory allocation between different apps. This is a type of ‘Rowhammer’ attack, which sends repetitive read/write requests to memory in order to create an electrical interference.  Because RAM is packed so densely nowadays, an electrical interference from one area of RAM can affect another, which in turn can lead to what is known as ‘bit flipping’.

Bit flipping is the act of turning a singular bit in RAM from one state to another. If the correct bit is flipped, this could lead to something like giving an app full control of your device.  The chances of the correct bit being flipped is incredibly low, but the door is still open for a RAMpage exploit to gain administrative control.

This is an issue, but given the odds of the correct bit being flipped is around 1 in 32 billion (some devices have higher odds), meaning that this exploit is unlikely to cause much harm. Still, it is something worth keeping in mind for the future, as OEMs begin designing new devices.

KitGuru Says: RAMpage isn’t something to particularly worry about, as an exploit relies on chance more than anything else, but now it’s known, users will know what to look out for. What do you make of the RAMpage exploit?

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