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
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
I Smell a RAT! New Cybersecurity Threats for the Crypto Industry
David Trepp, Partner, IT Assurance with accounting and advisory firm BPM LLP,  7/9/2021
Attacks on Kaseya Servers Led to Ransomware in Less Than 2 Hours
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  7/7/2021
It's in the Game (but It Shouldn't Be)
Tal Memran, Cybersecurity Expert, CYE,  7/9/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
How Machine Learning, AI & Deep Learning Improve Cybersecurity
Machine intelligence is influencing all aspects of cybersecurity. Organizations are implementing AI-based security to analyze event data using ML models that identify attack patterns and increase automation. Before security teams can take advantage of AI and ML tools, they need to know what is possible. This report covers: -How to assess the vendor's AI/ML claims -Defining success criteria for AI/ML implementations -Challenges when implementing AI
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2022-10-03
pfSense v2.5.2 was discovered to contain a cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability in the browser.php component. This vulnerability allows attackers to execute arbitrary web scripts or HTML via a crafted payload injected into a file name.
PUBLISHED: 2022-10-03
phpipam v1.5.0 was discovered to contain a header injection vulnerability via the component /admin/subnets/ripe-query.php.
PUBLISHED: 2022-10-03
Under certain conditions, an attacker could create an unintended sphere of control through a vulnerability present in file delete operation in Autodesk desktop app (ADA). An attacker could leverage this vulnerability to escalate privileges and execute arbitrary code.
PUBLISHED: 2022-10-03
An issue was discovered in Veritas NetBackup through 8.2 and related Veritas products. An attacker with local access can send a crafted packet to pbx_exchange during registration and cause a NULL pointer exception, effectively crashing the pbx_exchange process.
PUBLISHED: 2022-10-03
An issue was discovered in Veritas NetBackup through and related Veritas products. The NetBackup Primary server is vulnerable to an XML External Entity (XXE) Injection attack through the DiscoveryService service.