Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Endpoint Security

06:03 PM
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb

NSA to Share Added Security for Firmware Functions

Most people think of the National Security Agency as the home of operational intelligence gathering. But many people are unaware of the research that it has done and released to the public.

Most people think of the National Security Agency as the home of operational intelligence gathering. But many people are unaware of the research that it has done and released to the public. The Security Enhanced Linux module is one older but still quite viable example. Ghidra is a malware reverse-engineering open source tool, that was released as open source by the NSA at this year's RSA conference.

Now, NSA is looking at firmware. Firmware has become an attractive target for attackers since it can slip around most defensive measures. ESET found a UEFI rootkit in the wild for the first time last year.

Also, firmware has to run in an extremely privileged mode to do its functions, which means it may have access to everything in the computer.

Ghidra is being used by the Coreboot open source project as one of its central elements in securing firmware. Ghidra modules will allow loading PCI option ROMs into Ghidra along with firmware images and scripts to aide in the UEFI binary reverse engineering.

Eugene Myers, who works in the National Security Agency's Laboratory for Advanced Cybersecurity, is developing firmware hardening that will show up In the Coreboot project. He will be heading up the SMI Transfer Monitor with protected execution (STM-PE) project that will work with x86 processors that run Coreboot.

The STM is a hypervisor, so it can isolate physical hardware from a computer's operating system.

The STM takes the operating code and puts it in a "box" so it can only access the device system that it needs. It lives inside the System Management Mode, which is a "ring -2" isolated environment offering protected execution against tampering of low-level services. The low-level services might include power management, security functions, calls to the Trusted Platform Module and the like. This particular approach has been under development for the last seven years. Myers wrote a paper in 2018 describing the work that had been done on the Intel x86. Intel released the STM specification and documentation of the SMT firmware security feature as open source in 2015.

The idea of using the open source mechanism should serve as a way for anyone to verify that there is no backdoor in there put in by the NSA. That is, if the examiner is qualified and competent to do so. The NSA has previously snuck in computation methods (like doctored ECC curves) inside some released work which contained backdoors that were known to it. Therefore, they would be at an advantage dealing with any adversary that used their released work for everyday use. Myers may have dealt with that objection by finding a way for anyone to build out their own STM and not use the NSA version, even Linux users. That Linux version is now up on GitHub.

— 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.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 7/6/2020
Another COVID-19 Side Effect: Rising Nation-State Cyber Activity
Stephen Ward, VP, ThreatConnect,  7/1/2020
Lessons from COVID-19 Cyberattacks: Where Do We Go Next?
Derek Manky, Chief of Security Insights and Global Threat Alliances, FortiGuard Labs,  7/2/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal, a Dark Reading Perspective
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
This report describes some of the latest attacks and threats emanating from the Internet, as well as advice and tips on how your organization can mitigate those threats before they affect your business. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-07
An issue was discovered in CMSUno before 1.6.1. uno.php allows CSRF to change the admin password.
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-07
Victor CMS through 2019-02-28 allows XSS via the register.php user_firstname or user_lastname field.
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-07
A memory leak in Openthread's wpantund versions up to commit 0e5d1601febb869f583e944785e5685c6c747be7, when used in an environment where wpanctl is directly interfacing with the control driver (eg: debug environments) can allow an attacker to crash the service (DoS). We recommend updating, or to res...
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-07
Gossipsub 1.0 does not properly resist invalid message spam, such as an eclipse attack or a sybil attack.
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-07
A SQLi exists in the probe code of all Connectwise Automate versions before 2020.7 or 2019.12. A SQL Injection in the probe implementation to save data to a custom table exists due to inadequate server side validation. As the code creates dynamic SQL for the insert statement and utilizes the user su...