Understanding RowHammer Under Reduced Wordline Voltage: An Experimental Study Using Real DRAM Devices

by   A. Giray Yaglıkçı, et al.

RowHammer is a circuit-level DRAM vulnerability, where repeatedly activating and precharging a DRAM row, and thus alternating the voltage of a row's wordline between low and high voltage levels, can cause bit flips in physically nearby rows. Recent DRAM chips are more vulnerable to RowHammer: with technology node scaling, the minimum number of activate-precharge cycles to induce a RowHammer bit flip reduces and the RowHammer bit error rate increases. Therefore, it is critical to develop effective and scalable approaches to protect modern DRAM systems against RowHammer. To enable such solutions, it is essential to develop a deeper understanding of the RowHammer vulnerability of modern DRAM chips. However, even though the voltage toggling on a wordline is a key determinant of RowHammer vulnerability, no prior work experimentally demonstrates the effect of wordline voltage (VPP) on the RowHammer vulnerability. Our work closes this gap in understanding. This is the first work to experimentally demonstrate on 272 real DRAM chips that lowering VPP reduces a DRAM chip's RowHammer vulnerability. We show that lowering VPP 1) increases the number of activate-precharge cycles needed to induce a RowHammer bit flip by up to 85.8 tested chips and 2) decreases the RowHammer bit error rate by up to 66.9 an average of 15.2 marginally worsens a DRAM cell's access latency, charge restoration, and data retention time within the guardbands of system-level nominal timing parameters for 208 out of 272 tested chips. We conclude that reducing VPP is a promising strategy for reducing a DRAM chip's RowHammer vulnerability without requiring modifications to DRAM chips.


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