SoftTRR: Protect Page Tables against Rowhammer Attacks using Software-only Target Row Refresh


Zhi Zhang, CSIRO’s Data61, Australia; Yueqiang Cheng, NIO Security Research; Minghua Wang, Baidu Security; Wei He and Wenhao Wang, State Key Laboratory of Information Security, Institute of Information Engineering, CAS and University of Chinese Academy of Sciences; Surya Nepal, CSIRO’s Data61, Australia; Yansong Gao, Nanjing University of Science and Technology, China; Kang Li, Baidu Security; Zhe Wang and Chenggang Wu, State Key Laboratory of Computer Architecture, Institute of Computing Technology, CAS and University of Chinese Academy of Sciences


Rowhammer attacks that corrupt level-1 page tables to gain kernel privilege are the most detrimental to system security and hard to mitigate. However, recently proposed software-only mitigations are not effective against such kernel privilege escalation attacks. In this paper, we propose an effective and practical software-only defense, called SoftTRR, to protect page tables from all existing rowhammer attacks on x86. The key idea of SoftTRR is to refresh the rows occupied by page tables when a suspicious rowhammer activity is detected. SoftTRR is motivated by DRAM-chip-based target row refresh (ChipTRR) but eliminates its main security limitation (i.e., ChipTRR tracks a limited number of rows and thus can be bypassed by many-sided hammer [17]). Specifically, SoftTRR protects an unlimited number of page tables by tracking memory accesses to the rows that are in close proximity to page-table rows and refreshing the page-table rows once the tracked access count exceeds a pre-defined threshold. We implement a prototype of SoftTRR as a loadable kernel module, and evaluate its security effectiveness, performance overhead, and memory consumption. The experimental results show that SoftTRR protects page tables from real-world rowhammer attacks and incurs small performance overhead as well as memory cost.

Open Access Media

USENIX is committed to Open Access to the research presented at our events. Papers and proceedings are freely available to everyone once the event begins. Any video, audio, and/or slides that are posted after the event are also free and open to everyone. Support USENIX and our commitment to Open Access.

@inproceedings {280696,
author = {Zhi Zhang and Yueqiang Cheng and Minghua Wang and Wei He and Wenhao Wang and Surya Nepal and Yansong Gao and Kang Li and Zhe Wang and Chenggang Wu},
title = {{SoftTRR}: Protect Page Tables against Rowhammer Attacks using Software-only Target Row Refresh},
booktitle = {2022 USENIX Annual Technical Conference (USENIX ATC 22)},
year = {2022},
isbn = {978-1-939133-29-17},
address = {Carlsbad, CA},
pages = {399--414},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = jul

Presentation Video