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.

Vulnerabilities / Threats

3/5/2008
06:45 AM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Tool Physically Hacks Windows

Lets an attacker use Firewire to take over a 'locked' Windows machine

No screwdriver required: A researcher has released a plug-and-go physical hacking tool that uses a Firewire cable to “own” a Windows machine within seconds.

Winlockpwn, originally built two years ago, bypasses Windows’s authentication system and lets an attacker take over a “locked” Windows machine without even stealing its password. Adam Boileau, a researcher with Immunity Inc., says he decided it was finally time to make his tool publicly available. (See 'Cold Boot' Attack Tool Surfaces.)

Similar Firewire hacks have been demonstrated on Linux and OS X as well.

With Winlockpwn, the attacker connects a Linux machine to the Firewire port on the victim’s machine. The attacker then gets full read-and-write memory access and the tool deactivates Windows’s password protection that resides in local memory. Then he or she has carte blanche to steal passwords or drop rootkits and keyloggers onto the machine.

“This is just a party-trick demo script thats been lying around my homedir for two years gathering dust,” Boileau blogged this week. “I'm not releasing this because Microsoft didn't respond (they did; it’s not a bug, it's a feature, we all know this). It just seemed topical, with the RAM-freezing thing, and it's a pity to write code and have no one use it.”

Firewire’s abuse should come as no surprise, security experts say. The peripheral bus connection technology lets you read and write to memory, so the weakness is not a true vulnerability, but a feature of the technology.

“That Firewire port is, as designed, literally there to let you plug things into your laptop memory banks,” says Thomas Ptacek, principal with Matasano Security. “When you think of Firewire, you really should just think of a cable coming directly out of your system's DRAM banks. That's basically all Firewire is.”

Ptacek says this tool raises the bar in physical hacking. “People think about physical hacking as something you have to do with a screwdriver and 20 minutes, under cover of darkness. Attacks like Adam's can be done in the time it takes you to pick up a sheet of paper off the office printer,” he says.

Not all machines have Firewire ports, of course, but other researchers have already found ways to get around that, using a PCMCIA Firewire card. (See No Firewire for Hack? No Problem.) And Vista is not immune to such an attack, either: Austrian research firm SEC Consult had previously written a proof of concept for Windows Vista that disables password authentication in the default login routine, so the attacker can log in with an arbitrary password, according to the researchers.

Ptacek says the best defense is to disable Firewire. “I think that enterprises who care about security should make sure they don't issue laptops with enabled Firewire ports,” he says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

  • Immunity Inc.
  • Matasano Security LLC

    Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

    Comment  | 
    Print  | 
    More Insights
  • Comments
    Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
    Why Cyber-Risk Is a C-Suite Issue
    Marc Wilczek, Digital Strategist & CIO Advisor,  11/12/2019
    DevSecOps: The Answer to the Cloud Security Skills Gap
    Lamont Orange, Chief Information Security Officer at Netskope,  11/15/2019
    Attackers' Costs Increasing as Businesses Focus on Security
    Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  11/15/2019
    Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
    White Papers
    Video
    Cartoon Contest
    Current Issue
    Navigating the Deluge of Security Data
    In this Tech Digest, Dark Reading shares the experiences of some top security practitioners as they navigate volumes of security data. We examine some examples of how enterprises can cull this data to find the clues they need.
    Flash Poll
    Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
    Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
    Frustrated with recurring intrusions and breaches, cybersecurity professionals are questioning some of the industrys conventional wisdom. Heres a look at what theyre thinking about.
    Twitter Feed
    Dark Reading - Bug Report
    Bug Report
    Enterprise Vulnerabilities
    From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
    CVE-2019-19071
    PUBLISHED: 2019-11-18
    A memory leak in the rsi_send_beacon() function in drivers/net/wireless/rsi/rsi_91x_mgmt.c in the Linux kernel through 5.3.11 allows attackers to cause a denial of service (memory consumption) by triggering rsi_prepare_beacon() failures, aka CID-d563131ef23c.
    CVE-2019-19072
    PUBLISHED: 2019-11-18
    A memory leak in the predicate_parse() function in kernel/trace/trace_events_filter.c in the Linux kernel through 5.3.11 allows attackers to cause a denial of service (memory consumption), aka CID-96c5c6e6a5b6.
    CVE-2019-19073
    PUBLISHED: 2019-11-18
    Memory leaks in drivers/net/wireless/ath/ath9k/htc_hst.c in the Linux kernel through 5.3.11 allow attackers to cause a denial of service (memory consumption) by triggering wait_for_completion_timeout() failures. This affects the htc_config_pipe_credits() function, the htc_setup_complete() function, ...
    CVE-2019-19074
    PUBLISHED: 2019-11-18
    A memory leak in the ath9k_wmi_cmd() function in drivers/net/wireless/ath/ath9k/wmi.c in the Linux kernel through 5.3.11 allows attackers to cause a denial of service (memory consumption), aka CID-728c1e2a05e4.
    CVE-2019-19075
    PUBLISHED: 2019-11-18
    A memory leak in the ca8210_probe() function in drivers/net/ieee802154/ca8210.c in the Linux kernel before 5.3.8 allows attackers to cause a denial of service (memory consumption) by triggering ca8210_get_platform_data() failures, aka CID-6402939ec86e.