Internals of Direct Memory Access Part 2

This Part 2 of my tutorial about looking at how Direct Memory Access works on Windows, this part look at Bus Mastering which is the current and modern implementation of DMA.

With Bus Mastering, there is no concept of a controller, and therefore Direct Memory Access with Bus Mastering is naturally has better performance. Bus Mastering DMA is also referred to as First-Party Direct Memory Access.

The bus which becomes the Bus Master usually maintains full responsibility for maintaining information about the buffer lengths such as the base and the length of the physical buffer fragment. Remember that the bus only sees physical memory, which can be fragmented. Most devices will perform a transfer for each physical buffer fragment, reducing the overhead for the device but increasing the overhead for the transfers.

You may have heard about Scatter/Gather transfers used with drivers, this enables drivers to set up a chain of buffer fragments and then transfer each fragment as one DMA transaction. For example, you may be reading from one address buffer and then writing the data into multiple buffers. The opposite may also be true. Scatter/Gather operations are used with a Scatter/Gather Table which is comprises of data to be written to memory locations associated with a particular device. The GetScatterGatherList function creates a list for the associated device.

With Windows, there tends to be two types of operation methods: packet-based and common buffer. Before we look at Packet Based and Common Buffer based transfers, we need to understand the concept of Map Registers in association with DMA.

Map Registers

Map Registers serve the same concept as PTEs with Page Translation, but the bus’ logical address space is translated to a physical address space present within physical memory (RAM). By using Map Registers, drivers are able to reference virtual logic address space rather than reference physical address space, however, remember that DMA still only uses physical memory addresses to complete transfers. Map Registers are a form of abstraction for driver developers.


Map Registers are supported by Windows and the WDM framework with the DMA_ADAPTER structure, and the IoGetDmaAdapter function. We can examine this structure in WinDbg. I’ll also show the code for the function.

The more reliable method would be to the !dma extension with DMA Verification enabled for Driver Verifier.


The _DMA_OPERATIONS structure contains information all the associated functions which can be called for that physical device object. This structure is usually implemented as a table of pointers.

As you can see, the function will return a reference to the _DMA_ADAPTER structure. The Physical Device Object parameter is associated with the device wishing to obtain the address of the adapter structure, whereas, the Device Description parameter is a pointer to the _DEVICE_DESCRIPTION structure which describes the current attributes for the device. The Number of Map Registers parameter is the number of map registers which can be used for a DMA transfer.

The diagram below shows the correspondence between virtual memory and physical memory using Map Registers managed by the HAL.

Packet Based Transfer

DMA Packets are prepared and created by Windows, and these packets will be transferred to and from the physical device object. Each packet depends upon the availability of the Map Registers, and if not enough are available for the transfer, the packet will be added to a queue until there is enough Map Registers to complete the DMA transfer. GetScatterGatherList and PutScatterGatherList are generally used with Packet Based Transfers.

The number of available registers can be found in WinDbg with the _DMA_OPERATIONS structure.

The FreeMapRegisters member is a function pointer to the FreeMapRegisters function which frees the number of allocated map registers for the DMA transfer.

Common Buffer Transfer

Let’s examine the concept behind Common Buffer transfers. Common Buffers consist of a allocated region of kernel memory address space, which can be used to transfer information between your driver object and device object.

The AllocateCommonBufferEx function is used to create a buffer space called the Common Buffer.

Common Buffers do not require Map Registers, and are created within physical address space of the associated DMA device, which is also physically contiguous.

Common Buffers can’t be allocated at IRQL Level 2.

More Information – What is DMA (Part 4) – Common Buffers

DMA Attack:

DMA Attacks require access to physical memory, whereby the malicious code can access the kernel address space, device address space and registers and other important structures and data. In User-Mode, this access is protected by the MMU (Memory Management Unit) which will not allow User-Mode code direct access to such memory addresses. By someone writing malicious device drivers or Kernel Mode code, they will be able to access these important data structures, and either steal information or corrupt the operating system.

Although, any drivers used to run on Windows, will be need to be digitally signed with a certificate.

References:

The NT Insider: Driver Basics – DMA Concepts

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About 0x14c

I'm a Computer Science student and writer. My primary interests are Graph Theory, Number Theory, Programming Language Theory, Logic and Windows Debugging.
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One Response to Internals of Direct Memory Access Part 2

  1. VnSpl0it says:

    Great, Thanks !

    Like

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