Vulnerabilities / Threats
7/25/2011
11:29 AM
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Apple Laptop Batteries Hacked By Researcher

Attackers could use a password weakness to render your laptop's battery useless--or overcharge it to start a fire, researcher warns.

Building The Mac Office
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Building The Mac Office
Attackers could turn your laptop's battery into a useless brick, or worse, overcharge it to the point where it starts a fire.

That warning comes by way of security expert Charlie Miller, who said that he's successfully reverse-engineered Apple laptop "smart batteries," enabling him to reprogram their embedded controllers. Miller, who's a researcher at consultancy Accuvant, plans to document his research at next month's Black Hat conference in Las Vegas.

According to Miller's Black Hat talk description, "being able to control the working smart battery and smart battery host may be enough to cause safety issues, such as overcharging or fire." Notably, when the lithium-ion batteries used in laptops overheat, they can rupture, causing injuries. On the other hand, well-manufactured batteries also include numerous safety features, such as the ability to shut down in the event of overheating, as well as circuit interrupters designed to prevent overcharging or undercharging.

In his forthcoming talk, Miller plans to will demonstrate how to modify the firmware used by Apple smart batteries, disable their anti-tampering checksum, and reprogram the battery firmware using "a simple API," which he plans to release publicly. While Miller's research focused on MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air laptops from Apple--with whom he's already shared the results of his research--he suspects that Windows laptop batteries would be susceptible to firmware attacks.

Miller reverse-engineered Apple's battery firmware after the company issued a related firmware update in 2009. From there, he discovered the default password used to secure batteries, and from there, he learned how to read the values from that firmware and alter how the battery firmware interacts with the laptop. To date, Miller said he's successfully bricked seven Mac laptops via battery firmware hacks.

Interestingly, however, reprogramming the battery firmware could also allow an attacker to introduce persistent malware into the laptop. "You could put a whole hard drive in, reinstall the software, flash the BIOS, and every time it would reattack," Miller told Forbes.com. "There would be no way to eradicate or detect it other than removing the battery."

Despite the apparent threat vector, battery firmware offers essential functionality, providing giving users precise readings of a laptop's remaining charge, operating time, and estimated recharge time, while also allowing the battery to control the voltage and current being provided by a charger.

But how feasible are attacks against battery firmware? Offering some perspective, Paul Ducklin, head of technology for Sophos in the Asia Pacific region, said in a blog post that when it comes to reprogramming controllers with field-updatable firmware, laptop batteries aren't the only option. Indeed, an attacker could also target "the motherboard itself, your wireless card, your 3G modem, network card, graphics device, storage devices, and much more," he said.

To address the Apple laptop battery firmware vulnerability, Miller plans to release a utility called "Caulkgun" that will allow Apple users to change their laptop battery passwords. On the upside, the utility would prevent an attacker from exploiting an Apple battery pack's embedded controller. On the downside, it would block any Apple patches, performance enhancements, or security updates from updating the battery's firmware, unless the user first restored the battery's default password.

The vendors, contractors, and other outside parties with which you do business can create a serious security risk. Here's how to keep this threat in check. Also in the new, all-digital issue of Dark Reading: Why focusing solely on your own company's security ignores the bigger picture. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
Partner Perspectives
What's This?
In a digital world inundated with advanced security threats, Intel Security seeks to transform how we live and work to keep our information secure. Through hardware and software development, Intel Security delivers robust solutions that integrate security into every layer of every digital device. In combining the security expertise of McAfee with the innovation, performance, and trust of Intel, this vision becomes a reality.

As we rely on technology to enhance our everyday and business life, we must too consider the security of the intellectual property and confidential data that is housed on these devices. As we increase the number of devices we use, we increase the number of gateways and opportunity for security threats. Intel Security takes the “security connected” approach to ensure that every device is secure, and that all security solutions are seamlessly integrated.
Featured Writers
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Dark Reading's October Tech Digest
Fast data analysis can stymie attacks and strengthen enterprise security. Does your team have the data smarts?
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2012-5242
Published: 2014-10-21
Directory traversal vulnerability in functions/suggest.php in Banana Dance B.2.6 and earlier allows remote attackers to include and execute arbitrary local files via a .. (dot dot) in the name parameter in a get_template action.

CVE-2012-5243
Published: 2014-10-21
functions/suggest.php in Banana Dance B.2.6 and earlier allows remote attackers to read arbitrary database information via a crafted request.

CVE-2012-5702
Published: 2014-10-21
Multiple cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities in dotProject before 2.1.7 allow remote attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via the (1) callback parameter in a color_selector action, (2) field parameter in a date_format action, or (3) company_name parameter in an addedit action to i...

CVE-2013-7406
Published: 2014-10-21
SQL injection vulnerability in the MRBS module for Drupal allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary SQL commands via unspecified vectors.

CVE-2014-2531
Published: 2014-10-21
SQL injection vulnerability in xhr.php in InterWorx Web Control Panel (aka InterWorx Hosting Control Panel and InterWorx-CP) before 5.0.14 build 577 allows remote authenticated users to execute arbitrary SQL commands via the i parameter in a search action to the (1) NodeWorx , (2) SiteWorx, or (3) R...

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Follow Dark Reading editors into the field as they talk with noted experts from the security world.