Intel's recent Atom, Celeron, Pentium chips can be lulled into a debug mode, potentially revealing system secrets

Testing times for Chipzilla as it emits patches to protect PCs, equipment


Certain Intel processors can be slipped into a test mode, granting access to low-level keys that can be used to, say, unlock encrypted data stored in a stolen laptop or some other device.

This vulnerability (CVE-2021-0146), identified by Positive Technologies, a security firm just sanctioned by the US, affects various Intel Atom, Celeron, and Pentium chips that were made in the past few years. It's one of 25 security holes Intel revealed last week.

The insecure chip hardware permits the "activation of test or debug logic at runtime for some Intel processors which may allow an unauthenticated user to potentially enable escalation of privilege via physical access," Intel explained in an advisory, which rates the bug with a CVSS score of 7.1. Exploitation of the hole does require physical access to the chips, an important caveat to note.

The vulnerable Atom, Celeron, and Pentium chips come from Intel's Apollo Lake, Gemini Lake, and Gemini Lake Refresh platforms, which serve as the brains in various desktop, mobile, and embedded systems.

One example cited is the Atom E3900 embedded processors that are found in more than 30 car models, according to Intel, and, it's claimed, in Tesla's Model 3. These chips also drive assorted network appliances and IoT devices.

The bug was identified by Mark Ermolov and Dmitry Sklyarov from Positive Technologies, and independent researcher, Maxim Goryachy, and was responsibly disclosed to Intel.

Ermolov in a statement warned that one way this bug might be abused would be if a miscreant obtained a stolen laptop or notebook computer with vulnerable hardware.

“Using this vulnerability, an attacker can extract the encryption key and gain access to information within the laptop," he explained.

"The bug can also be exploited in targeted attacks across the supply chain. For example, an employee of an Intel processor-based device supplier could, in theory, extract the Intel CSME firmware key and deploy spyware that security software would not detect."

An attacker can extract the encryption key and gain access to information within the laptop

Ermolov also said the bug can be abused to fetch the root encryption key that secures Intel Platform Trust Technology and Enhanced Privacy ID technologies. These are used, for example, to secure ebook content and prevent the unauthorized copying of protected content.

The bug arises from an insufficiently protected, overprivileged debugging system and the fix comes in the form of UEFI BIOS updates for affected devices.

Patches have already been issued by Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Supermicro, among others. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021