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.”
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Key Criteria for Evaluating Unified Endpoint Management
Endpoint management is one of the most significant challenges in the enterprise today. An increasingly large percentage of our workforce is distributed and demands flexibility to work wherever they want, whenever they want. We must respond by giving them access to the services they require to do their jobs effectively. The alternative is that we, as a business, will suffer, lose good people, and become less competitive. However, we must achieve this essential access while maintaining security and control of our business’s data assets.
An appropriate endpoint management strategy is key to addressing these issues. Our approach should be holistic and unified, bringing together control of devices, management of applications, security of data, and access controls.
Unified endpoint management (UEM) is the approach to meeting this challenge. It has evolved from traditionally disparate solutions for endpoint management, application delivery, and security into a single platform. This single platform delivers a consistent end-user experience across all devices, applications, and locations while maintaining security and control of data assets. The leading solutions allow us to enroll devices easily into our control, provide support, and ensure constituency and compliance while managing access to our applications and data.
This GigaOM Key Criteria Report describes UEM solutions and identifies key criteria and evaluation metrics for selecting such a solution. The corresponding GigaOm Radar Report identifies vendors and products that excel in this sector. Together, these reports give decision-makers an overview of the market to help them evaluate existing platforms and decide where to invest.
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.
Solution 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.
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Data Storage for Ever Changing Business Needs
Join GigaOm analyst Enrico Signoretti and CTERA CTO Aron Brand in this one-hour live webinar as they explore file storage trends and dynamics through the lens of IT infrastructure modernization projects.
The file and cloud experts will discuss the limitations of traditional NAS architectures in today’s corporate environments and how organizations are implementing distributed cloud file storage to solve remote collaboration, ransomware protection, and unstructured data growth challenges.
Signoretti and Brand will also examine the recently published GigaOm Radar for Distributed Cloud File Storage, in which CTERA was named the leader. They will review the report’s key criteria and evaluation metrics for choosing a distributed cloud file storage platform, helping IT leaders to understand which vendors are most aligned to their needs today as well as 12-18 months down the road.
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High Performance Application Security Testing – Cloud WAF Security Platforms
This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research features analyst Jake Dolezal and will focus on comparing Web Application Firewall (WAF) security platforms in an enterprise with high performance needs.
This webinar will discuss web application security mechanisms deployed in the cloud. The cloud enables enterprises to differentiate and innovate with microservices at a rapid pace. However, the cloud is just as vulnerable, if not more so, to attacks and breaches as on-premises APIs and apps are. Our focus is specifically on approaches to securing apps, APIs, and microservices that are tuned for high performance and availability. We define “high performance” as companies that experience workloads of more than 1,000 transactions per second (tps) and require a maximum latency below 30 milliseconds across the landscape.
In this webinar, we will reveal the performance tests of security mechanisms on NGINX, AWS, and Azure, specifically: ModSecurity, NGINX App Protect WAF, AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF), and Azure WAF.
Register now to join GigaOm and NGINX for this free expert webinar.
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