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.

Operations

10/21/2019
04:15 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
Google+
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Microsoft Aims to Block Firmware Attacks with New Secured-Core PCs

Partnerships with Intel, Qualcomm, and AMD will bring a new layer of device security that alters the boot process to detect firmware compromise.

Microsoft is teaming up with Windows device manufacturers to tighten firmware security in a new initiative called Secure-Core PCs, which are built to defend against firmware-level attacks.

Its announcement arrives as attackers take greater aim at firmware, the level of software that is closest to the hardware and controls the functions of devices and systems. Firmware is an appealing target because it has a higher level of access and privilege than the operating system kernel and hypervisor. The National Vulnerabilities Database reports 414 firmware bugs have been reported in 2019, compared with 476 in 2018, 401 in 2017, and seven in 2016.

"Firmware is the most privileged software running on the device," says David Weston, partner director of OS security at Microsoft. "You can basically do anything." Because firmware isn't always centrally updated, he continues, it's more likely to be outdated and vulnerable.

When firmware vulnerabilities are exploited by sophisticated groups such as Strontium/APT28, which has been spotted using this type of attack, the infection is difficult to detect and remove. Firmware attacks can weaken security functionalities like Windows' Secure Boot; because many endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools have limited visibility at the firmware level, it's easier for attackers to slip past them. If the firmware is assumed breached, the security of the whole machine is potentially at risk.

Secure Boot is a feature designed to make sure that when a device boots up, it's only using software trusted by the OEM. When a computer starts, the firmware checks the signature of each component in the boot software. If the signatures are valid, the machine starts running. Secure Boot assumes firmware can be trusted – a major problem if it has been compromised. On its own, the secure measure doesn't protect against malware that exploits firmware bugs.

New security requirements in Secured-Core PCs are intended to help users boot securely, protect devices from firmware flaws, and prevent unauthorized access to devices and data. Secured-Core PCs remove the need to trust firmware as part of the bootup process. Instead, they place the root of trust at the CPU level with new chipsets from AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm.

"System Guard uses the Dynamic Root of Trust for Measurement (DRTM) capabilities that are built into the latest silicon from AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm to enable the system to leverage firmware to start the hardware and then shortly after re-initialize the system into a trusted state by using the OS boot loader and processor capabilities to send the system down a well-known and verifiable code path," Weston writes in a blog post on today's news. If the CPU decides the firmware was compromised, it can transmit a signal to indicate foul play.

This limits the trust placed in firmware, protects against firmware attacks, and maintains the integrity of the virtualization-based security (VBS) functionality, implemented by the hypervisor. Securing VBS is critical, Weston says, because it's used in key OS security capabilities like Windows Defender Credential Guard and Hypervisor-protected Code Integrity (HVCI), which ensures a code integrity policy is enforced and kernel code is verified.

The extra layer of security will arrive in new Windows 10 devices, starting with the Surface Pro X. Other devices will follow from Dell, HP, Lenovo, Panasonic, and Dynabook. Most of the Secured-Core devices launching are laptops, says Weston, with the exception of Surface Pro X.

While anyone can buy a Secured-Core PC – a sticker will inform them whether it meets the security requirements – Weston notes these are specifically designed for people who work in verticals like government or financial services, where sensitive information is often targeted.

"If you think about who is likely to suffer a really advanced, targeted firmware attack, it's going to be people in those highly targeted verticals," he adds.

Related Content:

This free, all-day online conference offers a look at the latest tools, strategies, and best practices for protecting your organization’s most sensitive data. Click for more information and, to register, here.

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Mobile Banking Malware Up 50% in First Half of 2019
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/17/2020
Exploits Released for As-Yet Unpatched Critical Citrix Flaw
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  1/13/2020
Microsoft to Officially End Support for Windows 7, Server 2008
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/13/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
[Just Released] How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
[Just Released] How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Organizations have invested in a sweeping array of security technologies to address challenges associated with the growing number of cybersecurity attacks. However, the complexity involved in managing these technologies is emerging as a major problem. Read this report to find out what your peers biggest security challenges are and the technologies they are using to address them.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-7227
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
Westermo MRD-315 1.7.3 and 1.7.4 devices have an information disclosure vulnerability that allows an authenticated remote attacker to retrieve the source code of different functions of the web application via requests that lack certain mandatory parameters. This affects ifaces-diag.asp, system.asp, ...
CVE-2019-15625
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
A memory usage vulnerability exists in Trend Micro Password Manager 3.8 that could allow an attacker with access and permissions to the victim's memory processes to extract sensitive information.
CVE-2019-19696
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
A RootCA vulnerability found in Trend Micro Password Manager for Windows and macOS exists where the localhost.key of RootCA.crt might be improperly accessed by an unauthorized party and could be used to create malicious self-signed SSL certificates, allowing an attacker to misdirect a user to phishi...
CVE-2019-19697
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
An arbitrary code execution vulnerability exists in the Trend Micro Security 2019 (v15) consumer family of products which could allow an attacker to gain elevated privileges and tamper with protected services by disabling or otherwise preventing them to start. An attacker must already have administr...
CVE-2019-20357
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-18
A Persistent Arbitrary Code Execution vulnerability exists in the Trend Micro Security 2020 (v160 and 2019 (v15) consumer familiy of products which could potentially allow an attacker the ability to create a malicious program to escalate privileges and attain persistence on a vulnerable system.