WhistleBlower: A System-level Empirical Study on RowHammer

Wei He, Zhi Zhang, Yueqiang Cheng, Wenhao Wang, Wei Song, Yansong Gao, Qifei Zhang, Kang Li, Dongxi Liu, Surya Nepal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


With frequent software-induced activations on DRAM rows, bit flips can occur on their physically adjacent rows (i.e., RowHammer). Existing studies leverage FPGA platforms to characterize RowHammer, which have identified key factors that contribute to RowHammer bit flips, e.g., data pattern. As the FPGA-based studies have removed the interference of the OS and the memory controller, their findings on the identified contributing factors do not always work as reported in a real-world computing system, resulting in negative effects on system-level RowHammer attacks and defenses. In this paper, we carry out a system-level empirical study on factors from both the software side and the DRAM side that contribute to RowHammer. We conduct the study on 33 DRAM modules including both DDR4 and DDR3, with 292 DRAM chips from various vendors. Our experimental results from the software side show that some prior findings about existing factors are inconsistent with our observations, thus not applicable to a real-world system. Also, we contribute to identifying one new factor that effectively affects RowHammer bit flips. Our DRAM-side results identify three types of new contributing factors and indicate that DRAM modules are more vulnerable if they achieve better performance and lower power consumption. Particularly, Intel XMP, intended for improving DRAM performance, might be abused for RowHammer attacks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalIEEE Transactions on Computers
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Jan 2023


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