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NIST Protects BIOS With New Security Guidelines

The standards body provides ways to detect changes to the code or configuration of a PC's startup system.
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The organization that sets federal technology standards has provided new security guidelines for protecting the system that starts up PCs.

The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) is accepting comments on new guidelines to lock down a computer's Basic Input/Output System (BIOS), which--because it is a very basic, low-level function--can cause a significant security threat if unauthorized changes are made to it, according to NIST.

The document, BIOS Integrity Measurement Guidelines, provides “integrity measurement mechanisms” that have two aims, according to NIST. One is to detect changes to the BIOS code that could allow malicious software to run during a PC's boot process, and the other is to detect changes to the configuration of the system.

The document provides several use-case scenarios associated with BIOS functions that inform the security recommendations presented in the document.

The uses cases include installing and/or verifying the correct BIOS revision for a given client; imaging the BIOS with appropriate settings; setting BIOS passwords; asserting security controls requiring physical presence, including a PC's Trusted Platform Module; and registering the endpoint identity and integrity metrics in the pertinent IT databases, according to the document.

[The National Institute for Standards and Technology also has been busy building a cloud roadmap for government. See NIST Releases Federal Cloud Roadmap, Architecture.]

The guidelines--the second in a series aimed at locking down a PC's startup system--are aimed at hardware and software vendors developing products to support BIOS integrity measurement mechanisms, as well as organizations developing these types of security technologies, according to NIST.

The standards organization published the first in its series of BIOS security guidelines in April. That document, BIOS Protection Guidelines, provided ways for computer manufacturers to build security features directly into the BIOS to prevent unauthorized modifications.

Those interested have until Jan. 20, 2012 to comment on the most recent BIOS guidelines, NIST said.

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