Uncovering the Role Of Firmware In Cybersecurity
By Tom Seest
At BestCybersecurityNews, we help entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, young learners, and seniors learn more about cybersecurity.
Firmware is the software embedded in every piece of hardware on your computer. Its main role is to communicate with any installed applications and guarantee that hardware responds correctly when commands are sent.
Though often overlooked, firmware has become an increasingly attractive target for hackers and malware. Hackers use firmware to steal data, circumvent antivirus checks, or take control of devices.
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A computer’s BIOS is the initial program that launches when powered on and is responsible for initializing the system and configuring hardware devices like CPU, memory, and chipset. It also loads the operating system and offers a user interface to modify settings on the fly.
Depending on the type of computer system, BIOSs can either be legacy or UEFI. The latter is more prevalent today and offers numerous advantages over its predecessor.
It is a firmware interface that regulates the system’s operations, such as power and temperature regulation. Furthermore, it can be programmed to load additional firmware modules necessary for optimal device functionality.
Cybersecurity experts stress the importance of safeguarding a device’s BIOS, which should be secured from malicious attacks such as hacks. Cybercriminals may use the BIOS to access device firmware, read data from it, or even modify it without being noticed by higher-level scans.
The firmware in a computer’s BIOS is stored in nonvolatile memory (RAM), typically known as ROM. This guarantees that it won’t be erased when the device is powered off.
Modern computers often boast more intricate software and systems than ever before, making it essential that their firmware be secure. While it may not always be possible to protect every component on a computer, the BIOS should always be given top priority for security.
Businesses that store sensitive information or confidential files on laptops must take the necessary precautions to keep them secure. Neglecting to do so could have serious repercussions; companies that don’t safeguard their hardware and contents from malicious attacks could face legal repercussions.
Unfortunately, many businesses fail to prioritize hardware security in their cybersecurity strategy. This miscalculation can have disastrous results – whether it’s a personal laptop or an enterprise server – when not protected properly.
The Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) is a set of specifications that define the interface between an operating system and a platform’s firmware. This specification contains data tables with platform-related details, boot service calls, and runtime services provided to both the operating system and loader.
EFI, which replaces the BIOS that was once present in all personal computers that were IBM PC compatible, provides several security enhancements not possible with older BIOS versions.
One of the most critical functions is Secure Boot, which uses a machine-specific list of allowed hardware components as SHA-256 hashes to identify trustworthy devices at boot time. This prevents insiders from booting to unexpected devices and installing malicious software or jeopardizing the security of sensitive data on the machine.
Another key security measure is the capability to manage UEFI keys. Many UEFI configuration tools provide a menu that enables endpoint owners to save their PK, KEK, DB, and DBX values externally on a USB drive or within the storage drive itself for safekeeping.
UEFI also includes an exit-boot-services call that instructs the firmware to delete all code and data from legacy boot services. In many cases, this call is handled by the OS as it usually prefers using its own programs for controlling hardware devices rather than relying on instructions from the firmware.
Many security products provide UEFI scanning and threat blocking to help defend against UEFI threats, with some even supporting Thorough Boot mode, which denies execution to malware. Unfortunately, this mode may only be enabled on certain systems or if specific settings have been configured.
Cybercriminals are becoming increasingly aware of the potential exploits for UEFI, leading to an array of ESM-level attacks. One particularly popular type is hacks that gain access to SPI flash – nonvolatile memory holding trusted binaries that boot a computer – on computers.
Mac users should be aware of a vulnerability in Apple’s EFI firmware that could allow an attacker to overwrite the contents of your EFI and install a rootkit without physical access, according to Duo Security expert Will Hudson. This poses particular risks for systems running MacOS, making this issue particularly serious for organizations with Macs in critical environments.
Bootloaders are software programs responsible for booting up a device when it first powers on. Normally, these bootloaders cannot be modified or customized by the CPU; if you want full control over your system, however, then having your own custom bootloader installed is necessary.
The bootloader also guarantees that only software that has been digitally signed by a trusted source can be executed on the microcontroller. This is achieved through cryptographic systems using public/private keys.
Secure Boot (also referred to as Verified Boot, Trusted Boot, or Secure Start) is a PC security standard that gives you control over which operating systems your computer can load. For instance, the Windows kernel must pass through Secure Boot verification before being stored in memory by your machine.
This process prevents attackers from altering the kernel, which is the most critical part of a computer’s startup process. For instance, an altered boot driver could make Windows fail to load, or corrupted ELAM (Electronic Logical Access Manager) may fail to verify that hardware connections are correctly made.
Cybercriminals use a range of techniques to take over a computer. One common strategy involves replacing an executable file with a malicious one.
Another method is a Kernel Rootkit or Driver Rootkit. These programs replace part of the OS kernel and launch automatically when your system boots up.
Rogue codes can be downloaded and installed by an attacker without the user’s knowledge or consent. These malicious files could be designed to perform various malicious tasks, such as stealing personal information or injecting malware into the system.
To protect against these threats, it is essential to implement Secure Boot and a trusted platform on devices that cannot be reprogrammed by a third party. This is especially true for industrial automation systems, IoT devices, and other integrated systems that may have over-the-air updates enabled or are vulnerable to external programming.
Firmware is a type of low-level software running on electronic devices that’s usually invisible to users and can be an attractive target for hackers.
Firmware security is becoming an increasingly critical element of cybersecurity, as hackers are targeting the firmware of millions of products worldwide – from printers and phones to medical devices, industrial control systems (ICS), and more.
One of the most common methods to gain access to a device’s firmware is through hardware hacking techniques. These attacks grant hackers the power to manipulate or alter the firmware, potentially leading to information theft or other damaging effects on the device.
One way to gain access to a device’s firmware is by physically touching or manipulating its memory chip. For instance, using an instrument to remove the ROM from an appliance could give hackers direct access to its contents.
ROM (Real-Time Memory) is an invaluable form of computer memory found in devices such as computers, printers, fax machines, and more. Its primary benefit is that it’s read-only – meaning no data loss if the connected device is turned off.
Other types of ROM include PROM, MROM, and EPROM – each with its own distinctive qualities. PROM can be programmed by shining an intense UV light through the window inside of the chip, while EEPROM (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory) can be rewritten up to 1,000 times to provide convenience when making changes without taking out the chip from its device.
ROM (Read-Only Memory) is an integral component of many electronic devices, essential for our digital safety. That’s why it’s essential to comprehend what ROM is and how to protect it from malicious hackers. Without understanding ROM, you could potentially end up losing all your personal data or becoming the victim of a serious security breach.
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