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Hardware Is the New Attack Surface – Forrester

Attackers have already begun to breach security at the BIOS level, according to a new report on BIOS security from Forrester Consulting.

Larry Loeb

December 12, 2019

3 Min Read

Attackers have already begun to breach security at the BIOS level, according to a new report on BIOS securityfrom Forrester Consulting that was commissioned by Dell.

In this study, Forrester conducted an online survey of 307 enterprises in the US, Canada, the UK, France and Germany. Survey participants included decision makers in IT, security and risk/compliance roles at companies with more than 500 employees.

The report found that nearly two thirds (63%) of companies have experienced a "data compromise or breach within the past 12 months due to an exploited vulnerability in hardware- or silicon-level security." Of the 307 firms surveyed, 47% experienced at least two hardware-level attacks in the last 12 months.

Despite the fact that nearly two thirds of organizations recognize they have a moderate to extremely high level of exposure to threats affecting the hardware supply chain, just 59% have implemented a hardware supply chain security strategy.

While the majority of organizations reported hardware and endpoint security measures were their top security priorities in the coming year, when they were asked specifically about hardware-level defenses and supply chain protections there was little to point to as being part of an ongoing program. Perhaps for this reason, respondents said that they weren't properly prepared to address vulnerabilities at hardware levels.

The study also looked at security perceptions. Seven out of ten firms identified silicon-level security as very or critically important to overcoming potential and actual security challenges. Although 60% of firms see BIOS and firmware exploits as being "very" or "extremely" concerning, only half of the surveyed firms feel the same for silicon-level vulnerabilities, even though both levels of hardware problems could have equally catastrophic effects.

But changes are coming. The study says that firms have pledged to embrace more security practices in the coming months and that many have already begun adopting and investing in supply chain validation initiatives: 47% are implementing them now and 30% of the firms plan to implement them in the next 12 months.

Those firms that have invested in hardware-level security have high hopes for it, and some positive results to show. Organizations report growth in their enterprise's overall security (55%), reduced expenses to their hardware (39%), increased business continuity (44%), and expedited digital transformation (42%) as being a result of these increased measures.

Yet, only 28% of firms said that they were "satisfied" with the device security practices their vendors in the supply chain provided at the silicon level. Over half see security at the silicon level and throughout the supply chain as a standard in service from vendors (55% and 58%, respectively).

Organizations are showing through studies like this one that they are expecting their vendors to provide them a more complete validation of hardware than has been provided in the past. They are aware of the threats that can affect them via this vector, and want to be protected.

— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.

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About the Author(s)

Larry Loeb

Blogger, Informationweek

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange. His first Mac had 128 KB of memory, which was a big step up from his first 1130, which had 4 KB, as did his first 1401. You can e-mail him at [email protected].

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