Towards Phase Change Memory as a Secure Main Memory

André Seznec 1, *
* Corresponding author
1 ALF - Amdahl's Law is Forever
Inria Rennes – Bretagne Atlantique , IRISA-D3 - ARCHITECTURE
Abstract : Phase change memory (PCM) technology appears as more scalable than DRAM technology. As PCM exhibits access time slightly longer but in the same range as DRAMs, several recent studies have proposed to use PCMs for designing main memory systems. Unfortunately PCM technology suffers from a limited write endurance; typically each memory cell can be only be written a large but still limited number of times ($10^7$ to $10^9$ writes are reported for current technology). Till now, research proposals have essentially focused their attention on designing memory systems that will survive to the average behavior of conventional applications. However PCM memory systems should be designed to survive worst-case applications, i.e., malicious attacks targeting the physical destruction of the memory through overwriting a limited number of memory cells. In this paper, we propose the design of a secure PCM-based main memory that would by construction survive to overwrite attacks. In order to prevent a malicious user to overwrite some memory cells, the physical memory address (PA) manipulated by the computer system is not the same as the PCM memory address (PCMA). PCMA is made invisible from the rest of the computer system. The PCM memory controller is in charge of the PA-to-PCMA translation . Hiding PCMA alone does not prevent a malicious user to overwrite a PCM memory word. Therefore in the secure PCM-based main memory, PA-to-PCMA translation is continuously modified through a random process, such preventing a malicious user to overwrite some PCM memory words. PCM address invisibility and continuous random PA-to-PCMA translation ensures security against an overwrite attack as well it ensures a practical write endurance close to the theoretical maximum. The hardware overhead needed to ensure this security in the PCM controller includes a random number generator and a medium large address translation table.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - 3:16:20 PM
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André Seznec. Towards Phase Change Memory as a Secure Main Memory. [Research Report] RR-7088, INRIA. 2009, pp.13. ⟨inria-00430010v2⟩

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