Sunday, 20 May, 2018


Finnish firm detects Intel security flaw of 'almost shocking simplicity'

Intel Loopholes Finnish firm detects Intel security flaw of 'almost shocking simplicity'
Melba Vasquez | 13 January, 2018, 09:09

The issue allows anyone with physical access to the laptop to bypass the need to enter credentials, including user, BIOS and Bitlocker passwords and TPM passcodes. The changes can be made in under a minute, according to F-Secure.

"The issue potentially affects millions of laptops globally", said F-Secure consultant Harry Sintonen, who discovered the flaw. "In practice, it can give an attacker complete control over an individual's work laptop, despite even the most extensive security measures".

Intel AMT is software created to provide maintenance and remote access monitoring services for corporate laptop users.

Normally, laptop users set-up BIOS passwords to prevent unauthorised users from booting up devices or making changes to the boot-up process.

While requiring physical proximity to the target makes the attack more hard to initiate than a remote attack like a phishing email, it's not impossible that skilled attackers looking to compromise a particular target could orchestrate a scenario where they could get the brief time with the device they need.

To exploit the flaws highlighted by F-Secure, attackers only need to reboot or power-up the target machine and press CTRL-P during boot-up, claimed F-Secure.

However, on AMT machines, the attacker can select Intel's Management Engine BIOS Extension (MEBx) and log in using the default password "admin".

However, as this feature comes enabled by default even on consumer devices, it has anxious privacy activists that it can be used as a backdoor or to allow attackers remote access to victims' machines. "This allows an attacker access to configure AMT and make remote exploitation possible", F-Secure said. Access to the device may also be possible from outside the local network via an attacker-operated CIRA (client-initiated remote access) server.

"And since the computer connects to your company VPN [virtual private network], the attacker can access company resources". The attacker breaks into your room and configures your laptop in less than a minute, and now he or she can access your desktop when you use your laptop on the hotel (wireless system).

Sintonen stumbled upon the issue in July 2017, and notes that another researcher* also mentioned it in a more recent talk.

"Now the attacker can gain access to the system remotely", F-Secure's release noted, "as long as they're able to insert themselves onto the same network segment with the victim (enabling wireless access requires a few extra steps)".

However, F-Secure believes that the "pure simplicity of exploiting this particular issue sets it apart from previous instances". If the Meltdown and Spectre weren't enough trouble for users, this new vulnerability could be exploited by hackers to take control of unpatched systems.

The issue allows a local intruder to backdoor nearly any corporate laptop in a matter of seconds, even if the BIOS password, TPM Pin, Bitlocker and login credentials are in place. If the system's manufacturer has followed Intel's recommendation to protect the Intel MEBx menu with the system BIOS password, this physical attack would be mitigated.

El Reg understands that Intel began telling systems manufacturers to provide a system BIOS option to disable USB provisioning and to set the value to disable by default as far back as 2015.

Go through all now deployed devices and configure the AMT password or disable the functionality altogether. Even firmware-based malware can be easily uploaded to the system with no chance of detection.

Never leave your laptop unwatched in an insecure location such as a public place.

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