Finnish firm detects new Intel security flaw

Finnish firm detects new Intel security flaw

Although the successful exploitation of the security issue requires physical proximity, this might not be as hard for skilled attackers to organize as you might think.

"The issue potentially affects millions of laptops globally".

Intel AMT is software created to provide maintenance and remote access monitoring services for corporate laptop users. Weaknesses in the tech have been discovered before (examples here and here) but the latest flaw is nonetheless noteworthy because of the ease of exploitation.

A hacker trying to gain access to a computer can enter the Intel Management Engine BIOS menu when the device is booted, using a password that is usually set by default, and then configure for itself remote access.

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.

Intels Management Engine BIOS Extension, or MEBx, contains the standard log-in combination "admin", "admin" and because many users simply do not change it, according to F-Secure this opens the door to an easy to set-up attack.

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. The attacker can now gain remote access to the system from both wireless and wired networks, as long as they're able to insert themselves onto the same network segment with the victim. Access to the device may also be possible from outside the local network via an attacker-operated CIRA (client-initiated remote access) server.

He warned: "It can give an attacker complete control over an individual's work laptop".

Although the initial attack requires physical access, the speed at which it can be carried out makes it easily exploitable, said Sintonen. The remote access is limited to whatever network the targeted computer connects to, but that can include wireless networks.

A successful attack would lead to complete loss of confidentiality, integrity and availability, F-Secure said.

Germany's computer emergency response team, CERT-Bund, had also previously detailed how MEBx could be used to boot to a specially configured USB device, again bypassing the BIOS password.

F-Secure has notified Intel, all relevant device manufacturers and the CERT-Coordination Center in the USA about the security issue.

A large part of the problem is that enterprises are not following Intel's guidance in practice, said F-Secure, adding that it was going public in order to draw attention to the issue. "Since then we have been coordinating with laptop vendors and with Intel", F-Secure spokeswoman Melissa Michael tells ISMG. "Despite there being information available for manufacturers on how to prevent this, manufacturers are still not following best practices, leaving vast numbers of vulnerable laptops out there". What he has essentially done here is set up the machine to allow remote access without the user's knowledge that the computer is being exploited.

The exploit is however not as bad as Meltdown and Spectre since the former requires physical access to the device, but it's still a critical flaw as a system could be compromised in a couple of minutes.

Attackers with physical access to machines with Intel AMT can compromise them in under a minute.

"We issued guidance on best configuration practices in 2015 and updated it in November 2017, and we strongly urge OEMs to configure their systems to maximize security", she says.

First of all, F-Secure recommends to never leave your laptop unwatched in an insecure location.

F-Secure researchers found a new vulnerability in AMT that could allow anyone to bypass BitLocker encryption, BIOS password, TPM Pin, and login credentials on most laptops in less than a minute.

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