At the Black Hat Asia 2019 security conference, security researchers from Positive Technologies disclosed the existence of a previously unknown and undocumented feature in Intel chipsets.
Called Intel Visualization of Internal Signals Architecture (Intel VISA), Positive Technologies researchers Maxim Goryachy and Mark Ermolov said this is a new utility included in modern Intel chipsets to help with testing and debugging on manufacturing lines.
VISA is included with Platform Controller Hub (PCH) chipsets part of modern Intel CPUs and works like a full-fledged logic signal analyzer.
According to the two researchers, VISA intercepts electronic signals sent from internal buses and peripherals (display, keyboard, and webcam) to the PCH –and later the main CPU.
VISA exposes a computer’s entire data
Unauthorized access to the VISA feature would allow a threat actor to intercept data from the computer memory and create spyware that works at the lowest possible level.
But despite its extremely intrusive nature, very little is known about this new technology. Goryachy and Ermolov said VISA’s documentation is subject to a non-disclosure agreement, and not available to the general public.
Normally, this combination of secrecy and a secure default should keep Intel users safe from possible attacks and abuse.
However, the two researchers said they found several methods of enabling VISA and abusing it to sniff data that passes through the CPU, and even through the secretive Intel Management Engine (ME), which has been housed in the PCH since the release of the Nehalem processors and 5-Series chipsets.
Intel says it’s safe. Researchers disagree.
Goryachy and Ermolov said their technique doesn’t require hardware modifications to a computer’s motherboard and no specific equipment to carry out.
The simplest method consists of using the vulnerabilities detailed in Intel’s Intel-SA-00086 security advisory to take control of the Intel Management Engine and enable VISA that way.
“The Intel VISA issue, as discussed at BlackHat Asia, relies on physical access and a previously mitigated vulnerability addressed in INTEL-SA-00086 on November 20, 2017,” an Intel spokesperson told ZDNet yesterday.
“Customers who have applied those mitigations are protected from known vectors,” the company said.
However, in an online discussion after his Black Hat talk, Ermolov said the Intel-SA-00086 fixes are not enough, as Intel firmware can be downgraded to vulnerable versions where the attackers can take over Intel ME and later enable VISA.
Furthermore, Ermolov said that there are three other ways to enable Intel VISA, methods that will become public when Black Hat organizers will publish the duo’s presentation slides in the coming days.
As Ermolov said yesterday, VISA is not a vulnerability in Intel chipsets, but just another way in which a useful feature could be abused and turned against users. Chances that VISA will be abused are low. This is because if someone would go through the trouble of exploiting the Intel-SA-00086 vulnerabilities to take over Intel ME, then they’ll likely use that component to carry out their attacks, rather than rely on VISA.
As a side note, this is the second “manufacturing mode” feature Goryachy and Ermolov found in the past year. They also found that Apple accidentally shipped some laptops with Intel CPUs that were left in “manufacturing mode.”
More vulnerability reports:
Work from Home Security
Spin Master is a leading global children’s entertainment company that invents toys and games, produces dozens of television and studio series that are distributed in 160 countries, and creates a variety of digital games played by more than 30 million children. What was once a small private company founded by childhood friends is now a public global supply chain with over 1,500 employees and 28 offices around the world.
Like most organizations in 2020, Spin Master had to adapt quickly to the new normal of remote work, shifting most of its production from cubicles in regional and head offices to hundreds of employees working from home and other remote locations.
This dramatic shift created potential security risks, as most employees were no longer behind the firewall on the corporate network. Without the implementation of hardened endpoint security, the door would be open for bad actors to infiltrate the organization, acquire intellectual property, and ransom customer information. Additionally, the potential downtime caused by a security breach could harm the global supply chain. With that in mind, Spin Master created a self-imposed 30-day deadline to extend its network protection capabilities to the edge.
- Think Long Term: The initial goal of establishing a stop-gap work-from-home (WFH) and work-from-anywhere (WFA) strategy has since morphed into a permanent strategy, requiring long-term solutions.
- Gather Skills: The real urgency posed by the global pandemic made forging partnerships with providers that could fill all the required skill sets a top priority.
- Build Momentum: The compressed timeline left no room for delay or error. The Board of Directors threw its support behind the implementation team and gave it broad budget authority to ensure rapid action, while providing active guidance to align strategy with action.
- Deliver Value: The team established two key requirements that the selected partner must deliver: implementation support and establishing an ongoing managed security operations center (SOC).
Key Criteria for Evaluating Privileged Access Management
Privileged Access Management (PAM) enables administrative access to critical IT systems while minimizing the chances of security compromises through monitoring, policy enforcement, and credential management.
A key operating principle of all PAM systems is the separation of user credentials for individual staff members from the system administration credentials they are permitted to use. PAM solutions store and manage all of the privileged credentials, providing system access without requiring users to remember, or even know, the privileged password. Of course, all staff have their own unique user ID and password that they use to complete everyday tasks such as accessing email and writing documents. Users who are permitted to handle system administration tasks that require privileged credentials log into the PAM solution, which provides and controls such access according to predefined security policies. These policies control who is allowed to use which privileged credentials when, where, and for what tasks. An organization’s policy may also require logging and recording of the actions undertaken with the privileged credentials.
Once implemented, PAM will improve your security posture in several ways. The first is by segregating day-to-day duties from duties that require elevated access, reducing the risk of accidental privileged actions. Secondly, automated password management reduces the possibility that credentials will be shared while also lowering the risk if credentials are accidentally exposed. Finally, extensive logging and activity recording in PAM solutions aids audits of critical system access for both preventative and forensic security.
How to Read this Report
This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:
Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.
GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.
Vendor Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.
Adventist Risk Management Data Protection Infrastructure
Companies always want to enhance their ability to quickly address pressing business needs. Toward that end, they look for new ways to make their IT infrastructures more efficient—and more cost effective. Today, those pressing needs often center around data protection and regulatory compliance, which was certainly the case for Adventist Risk Management. What they wanted was an end-to-end, best-in-class solution to meet their needs. After trying several others, they found the perfect combination with HYCU and Nutanix, which provided:
- Ease of deployment
- Outstanding ROI
- Overall TCO improvement
Nutanix Cloud Platform provides a software-defined hyperconverged infrastructure, while HYCU offers purpose-built backup and recovery for Nutanix. Compared to the previous traditional infrastructure and data protection solutions in use at Adventist Risk Management, Nutanix and HYCU simplified processes, speeding day-to-day operations up to 75%. Now, migration and update activities typically scheduled for weekends can be performed during working hours and help to increase IT staff and management quality of life. HYCU further increased savings by providing faster and more frequent points of recovery as well as better DR Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO) by increasing the ability to do daily backups from one to four per day.
Furthermore, the recent adoption of Nutanix Objects, which provides secure and performant S3 storage capabilities, enhanced the infrastructure by:
- Improving overall performance for backups
- Adding security against potential ransomware attacks
- Replacing components difficult to manage and support
In the end, Nutanix and HYCU enabled their customer to save money, improve the existing environment, and, above all, meet regulatory compliance requirements without any struggle.
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