Cells Form Into ‘Xenobots’ on Their Own
Embryonic cells can self-assemble into new living forms that don’t resemble the bodies they usually generate, challenging old ideas of what defines an organism.
Infinite Nature: Perpetual View Generation of Natural Scenes from a Single Image
We introduce the problem of perpetual view generation—long-range generation of novel views corresponding to an arbitrarily long camera trajectory given a single image. This is a challenging problem that goes far beyond the capabilities of current view synthesis methods, which work for a limited range of viewpoints and quickly degenerate when presented with a large camera motion. Methods designed for video generation also have limited ability to produce long video sequences and are often agnostic to scene geometry. We take a hybrid approach that integrates both geometry and image synthesis in an iterative render, refine, and repeat framework, allowing for long-range generation that cover large distances after hundreds of frames. Our approach can be trained from a set of monocular video sequences without any manual annotation. We propose a dataset of aerial footage of natural coastal scenes, and compare our method with recent view synthesis and conditional video generation baselines, showing that it can generate plausible scenes for much longer time horizons over large camera trajectories compared to existing methods.
What are the most important statistical ideas of the past 50 years?
We argue that the most important statistical ideas of the past half century are: counterfactual causal inference, bootstrapping and simulation-based inference, overparameterized models and regularization, multilevel models, generic computation algorithms, adaptive decision analysis, robust inference, and exploratory data analysis. We discuss common features of these ideas, how they relate to modern computing and big data, and how they might be developed and extended in future decades. The goal of this article is to provoke thought and discussion regarding the larger themes of research in statistics and data science.
Multimodal Neurons in Artificial Neural Networks
We’ve discovered neurons in CLIP that respond to the same concept whether presented literally, symbolically, or conceptually. This may explain CLIP’s accuracy in classifying surprising visual renditions of concepts, and is also an important step toward understanding the associations and biases that CLIP and similar models learn.
The good, and the bad...
By exploiting the model’s ability to read text robustly, we find that even photographs of hand-written text can often fool the model.
Lord of the Ring(s): Side Channel Attacks on the CPU On-Chip Ring Interconnect Are Practical
We introduce the first microarchitectural side channel attacks that leverage contention on the CPU ring interconnect. There are two challenges that make it uniquely difficult to exploit this channel. First, little is known about the ring interconnect’s functioning and architecture. Second, information that can be learned by an attacker through ring contention is noisy by nature and has coarse spatial granularity. To address the first challenge, we perform a thorough reverse engineering of the sophisticated protocols that handle communication on the ring interconnect. With this knowledge, we build a cross-core covert channel over the ring interconnect with a capacity of over 4 Mbps from a single thread, the largest to date for a cross-core channel not relying on shared memory. To address the second challenge, we leverage the fine-grained temporal patterns of ring contention to infer a victim program’s secrets. We demonstrate our attack by extracting key bits from vulnerable EdDSA and RSA implementations, as well as inferring the precise timing of keystrokes typed by a victim user.
Decades-Long Quest Reveals Details of the Proton’s Inner Antimatter
Twenty years ago, physicists set out to investigate a mysterious asymmetry in the proton’s interior. Their results, published today, show how antimatter helps stabilize every atom’s core.
We learn in school that a proton is a bundle of three elementary particles called quarks — two “up” quarks and a “down” quark, whose electric charges (+2/3 and −1/3, respectively) combine to give the proton its charge of +1. But that simplistic picture glosses over a far stranger, as-yet-unresolved story.
In reality, the proton’s interior swirls with a fluctuating number of six kinds of quarks, their oppositely charged antimatter counterparts (antiquarks), and “gluon” particles that bind the others together, morph into them and readily multiply. Somehow, the roiling maelstrom winds up perfectly stable and superficially simple — mimicking, in certain respects, a trio of quarks.
Tales of Favicons and Caches: Persistent Tracking in Modern Browsers
The privacy threats of online tracking have garnered considerable attention in recent years from researchers and practitioners alike. This has resulted in users becoming more privacy-cautious and browser vendors gradually adopting countermeasures to mitigate certain forms of cookie-based and cookie-less tracking. Nonetheless, the complexity and feature-rich nature of modern browsers often lead to the deployment of seemingly innocuous functionality that can be readily abused by adversaries. In this paper we introduce a novel tracking mechanism that misuses a simple yet ubiquitous browser feature: favicons. In more detail, a website can track users across browsing sessions by storing a tracking identifier as a set of entries in the browser’s dedicated favicon cache, where each entry corresponds to a specific subdomain. In subsequent user visits the website can reconstruct the identifier by observing which favicons are requested by the browser while the user is automatically and rapidly redirected through a series of subdomains. More importantly, the caching of favicons in modern browsers exhibits several unique characteristics that render this tracking vector particularly powerful, as it is persistent (not affected by users clearing their browser data), non-destructive (reconstructing the identifier in subsequent visits does not alter the existing combination of cached entries), and even crosses the isolation of the incognito mode. We experimentally evaluate several aspects of our attack, and present a series of optimization techniques that render our attack practical. We find that combining our favicon-based tracking technique with immutable browser-fingerprinting attributes that do not change over time allows a website to reconstruct a 32-bit tracking identifier in 2 seconds. Furthermore, our attack works in all major browsers that use a favicon cache, including Chrome and Safari. Due to the severity of our attack we propose changes to browsers’ favicon caching behavior that can prevent this form of tracking, and have disclosed our findings to browser vendors who are currently exploring appropriate mitigation strategies.
Researchers make their own enzyme pathway to get CO₂ out of the air
Before this century is over, we’re almost certainly going to need to pull massive amounts of carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere. While we already know how to do carbon capture and storage, it takes a fair amount of energy and equipment, and someone has to pay for all that. It would be far more economical to pull CO2 out of the air if we could convert it to a useful product, like jet fuel. But processes like that also take a lot of energy, plus raw materials like hydrogen that take energy to create.
Plants and a huge range of microbes successfully pull carbon dioxide out of the air and use it to produce all sorts of complicated (and valuable!) chemicals. But the pathways they use to incorporate CO2 aren’t very efficient, so they can’t fix enough of the greenhouse gas or incorporate it into enough product to be especially useful. That has led a lot of people to look into re-engineering an enzyme that’s central to photosynthesis. But a team of European researchers has taken a radically different approach: engineering an entirely new biochemical pathway that incorporates the carbon of CO2 into molecules critical for the cell’s basic metabolism.
Data Security on Mobile Devices: Current State of the Art, Open Problems, and Proposed Solutions
In this work we attempt a full accounting of the current and historical status of smartphone security measures. We focus on several of the most popular device types, and present a complete description of both the available security mechanisms in these devices, as well as a summary of the known public information on the state-of-the-art in bypass techniques for each. Our goal is to provide a single periodically updated guide that serves to detail the public state of data security in modern smartphones.
How to Abuse and Fix Authenticated Encryption Without Key Commitment
Authenticated encryption (AE) is used in a wide variety of applications, potentially in settings for which it was not originally designed. Recent research tries to understand what happens when AE is not used as prescribed by its designers. A question given relatively little attention is whether an AE scheme guarantees “key commitment’’: ciphertext should decrypt to a valid plaintext only under the key that was used to generate the ciphertext. As key commitment is not part of AE’s design goal, AE schemes in general do not satisfy it. Nevertheless, one would not expect this seemingly obscure property to have much impact on the security of actual products. In reality, however, products do rely on key commitment. We discuss three recent applications where missing key commitment is exploitable in practice. We provide proof-of-concept attacks via a tool that constructs AES-GCM ciphertext which can be decrypted to two plaintexts valid under a wide variety of file formats, such as PDF, Windows executables, and DICOM. Finally we discuss two solutions to add key commitment to AE schemes which have not been analyzed in the literature: one is a generic approach that adds an explicit key commitment scheme to the AE scheme, and the other is a simple fix which works for AE schemes like AES-GCM and ChaCha20Poly1305, but requires separate analysis for each scheme.
PLATYPUS With Great Power comes Great Leakage
With classical power side-channel attacks, an adversary typically attaches an oscilloscope to monitor the energy consumption of a device. Since Intel Sandy Bridge CPUs, the Intel Running Average Power Limit (RAPL) interface allows monitoring and controlling the power consumption of the CPU and DRAM in software. Hence, the CPU basically comes with its own power meter. With the current implementation of the Linux driver, every unprivileged user has access to its measurements.
Using PLATYPUS, we demonstrate that we can observe variations in the power consumption to distinguish different instructions and different Hamming weights of operands and memory loads, allowing inference of loaded values. PLATYPUS can further infer intra-cacheline control flow of applications, break KASLR, leak AES-NI keys from Intel SGX enclaves and the Linux kernel, and establish a timing-independent covert channel.
With SGX, Intel released a security feature to create isolated environments, so-called enclaves, that are secure even if the operating system is compromised. In our work, we combine PLATYPUS with precise execution control of SGX-Step. As a result, we overcome the hurdle of the limited measuring capabilities of Intel RAPL by repeatedly executing single instructions inside the SGX enclave. Using this technique, we recover RSA keys processed by mbed TLS from an SGX enclave.
When It Comes to Octopuses, Taste Is for Suckers
Vulnerabilities! We’ve got vulnerabilities here! … See? Nobody cares.
Jurassic Park is often (mistakenly) left out of the hacker movie canon. It clearly demonstrated the risk of an insider attack on control systems (Velociraptor rampage, amongst other tragedies…) nearly a decade ahead of the Maroochy sewage incident, it’s the first film I know of with a digital troll (“ah, ah, ah, you didn’t say the magic word!”), and Samuel L. Jackson correctly assesses the possible consequence of a hard reset (namely, everyone dying), resulting in his legendary “Hold on to your butts”. The quotable mayhem is seeded early in the film, when biotech spy Lewis Dodgson gives a sack of money to InGen’s Dennis Nedry to steal some dino DNA. Dodgson’s caricatured OPSEC (complete with trilby and dark glasses) is mocked by Nedry shouting, “Dodgson! Dodgson! We’ve got Dodgson here! See, nobody cares…” Three decades later, this quote still comes to mind* whenever conventional wisdom doesn’t seem to square with observed reality, and today we’re going to apply it to the oft-maligned world of Industrial Control System (ICS) security.
Learning from LadderLeak: Is ECDSA Broken?
The paper authors were able to optimize existing attacks exploiting one-bit leakages against 192-bit and 160-bit elliptic curves. They were further able to exploit leakages of less than one bit in the same curves.
We’re used to discrete quantities in computer science, but you can leak less than one bit of information in the case of side-channels.
If “less than one bit” sounds strange, that’s probably our fault for always rounding up to the nearest bit when we express costs in computer science.
Black yeast symbionts compromise the efficiency of antibiotic defenses in fungus-growing ants
Multiplayer symbioses are common in nature, but our understanding of the ecological dynamics occurring in complex symbioses is limited. The tripartite mutualism between fungus-growing ants, their fungal cultivars, and antibiotic-producing bacteria exemplifies symbiotic complexity. Here we reveal how black yeasts, newly described symbionts of the ant-microbe system, compromise the efficiency of bacteria-derived antibiotic defense in fungus-growing ants. We found that symbiotic black yeasts acquire nutrients from the ants’ bacterial mutualist, and suppress bacterial growth. Experimental manipulation of ant colonies and their symbionts shows that ants infected with black yeasts are significantly less effective at defending their fungus garden from Escovopsis, a prevalent and specialized pathogen. The reduction of mutualistic bacterial biomass on ants, likely caused by black yeast symbionts, apparently reduces the quantity of antibiotics available to inhibit the garden pathogen. Success of the ant-fungal mutualism is directly dependent on fungus garden health. Thus our finding that black yeasts compromise the ants’ ability to deal with the garden parasite indicates that it is an integral component of the symbiosis. This is further evidence that a full understanding of symbiotic associations requires examining the direct and indirect interactions of symbionts in their ecological community context.
IJON: Exploring Deep State Spaces via Fuzzing
In this paper, we propose IJON, an annotation mechanism that a human analyst can use to guide the fuzzer. In contrast to the two aforementioned techniques, this approach allows a more systematic exploration of the program’s behavior based on the data representing the internal state of the program. As a consequence, using only a small (usually one line) annotation, a user can help the fuzzer to solve previously unsolvable challenges. We extended various AFL-based fuzzers with the ability to annotate the source code of the target application with guidance hints. Our evaluation demonstrates that such simple annotations are able to solve problems that—to the best of our knowledge—no other current fuzzer or symbolic execution based tool can overcome. For example, with our extension, a fuzzer is able to play and solve games such as Super Mario Bros. or resolve more complex patterns such as hash map lookups. To further demonstrate the capabilities of our annotations, we use AFL combined with IJON to uncover both novel security issues and issues that previously required a custom and comprehensive grammar to be uncovered. Lastly, we show that using IJON and AFL, one can solve many challenges from the CGC data set that resisted all fully automated and human guided attempts so far.
TRRespass: Exploiting the Many Sides of Target Row Refresh
Well, after two years of rigorous research, looking inside what is implemented inside CPUs and DDR4 chips using novel reverse engineering techniques, we can tell you that we do not live in a Rowhammer-free world. And we will not for the better part of this decade. Turns out while the old hammering techniques no longer work, once we understand the exact nature of these mitigations inside modern DDR4 chips, using new hammering patterns it is trivial to again trigger plenty of new bit flips. Yet again, these results show the perils of lack of transparency and security-by-obscurity. This is especially problematic since unlike software vulnerabilities, we cannot fix these hardware bit flips post-production.
LVI - Hijacking Transient Execution with Load Value Injection
LVI is a new class of transient-execution attacks exploiting microarchitectural flaws in modern processors to inject attacker data into a victim program and steal sensitive data and keys from Intel SGX, a secure vault in Intel processors for your personal data.
LVI turns previous data extraction attacks around, like Meltdown, Foreshadow, ZombieLoad, RIDL and Fallout, and defeats all existing mitigations. Instead of directly leaking data from the victim to the attacker, we proceed in the opposite direction: we smuggle — “inject” — the attacker’s data through hidden processor buffers into a victim program and hijack transient execution to acquire sensitive information, such as the victim’s fingerprints or passwords.
Landmark Computer Science Proof Cascades Through Physics and Math
Computer scientists established a new boundary on computationally verifiable knowledge. In doing so, they solved major open problems in quantum mechanics and pure mathematics.
Take A Way: Exploring the Security Implications of AMD’s Cache Way Predictors
In this paper, we are the first to exploit the cache way predictor. We reverse-engineered AMD’s L1D cache way predictor in microarchitectures from 2011 to 2019, resulting in two new attack techniques. With Collide+Probe, an attacker can monitor a victim’s memory accesses without knowledge of physical addresses or shared memory when time-sharing a logical core. With Load+ Reload, we exploit the way predictor to obtain highly-accurate memory-access traces of victims on the same physical core. While Load+Reload relies on shared memory, it does not invalidate the cache line, allowing stealthier attacks that do not induce any last-level-cache evictions.