Attack of the Cosmic Rays!

KSplice has posted an interesting article regarding the consequences of a single flipped erroneous bit in RAM.

It’s a well-documented fact that RAM in modern computers is susceptible to occasional random bit flips due to various sources of noise, most commonly high-energy cosmic rays. By some estimates, you can even expect error rates as high as one error per 4GB of RAM per day! Many servers these days have ECC RAM, which uses extra bits to store error-correcting codes that let them correct most bit errors, but ECC RAM is still fairly rare in desktops, and unheard-of in laptops.

Makes me want to build my next desktop with ECC RAM.  Of course, that requires a motherboard that supports it, among other things.  When you're using encryption, a single bit error can result in the inability to decrypt an entire file.  I wonder what steps could be taken to mitigate those sort of issues.

Comments

  • E. Bissett 2010/06/25 09:51

    Once I had a debian server that went utterly crazy one day (hogging CPU, disconnecting users, posting weird cron job errors, etc). I thought I had been hacked. Took a day to figure out that "grep" on the disk had changed by 1 bit, which altered one one valid opcode to another valid opcode. I had to copy a correct binary onto the system and then perform a package reinstall to get the system back.

    Not sure what happened... I'm fairly certain a single bit flip on a hard drive is detectable so I don't know how it got flipped. I blame cosmic rays.

    Link / Reply
  • E. Bissett 2010/06/25 09:51

    Once I had a debian server that went utterly crazy one day (hogging CPU, disconnecting users, posting weird cron job errors, etc). I thought I had been hacked. Took a day to figure out that "grep" on the disk had changed by 1 bit, which altered one one valid opcode to another valid opcode. I had to copy a correct binary onto the system and then perform a package reinstall to get the system back.

    Not sure what happened... I'm fairly certain a single bit flip on a hard drive is detectable so I don't know how it got flipped. I blame cosmic rays.

    Link / Reply
  • a@c.com 2010/06/28 06:19

    Fail, he didn't bother to run memtest, the problem had happened a few times so it's not related to cosmic rays.

    Link / Reply
  • a@c.com 2010/06/28 06:19

    Fail, he didn't bother to run memtest, the problem had happened a few times so it's not related to cosmic rays.

    Link / Reply

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