Firmware attacks; organizations under the alarm of data breach

Firmware attacks

Hackers are developing new malwares and attack strategies to leak information from established firms. Even if there is a secure configuration, the threat actors search for a vulnerability to exploit and enter into the networks of the organization.

Recently, Microsoft warned companies and businesses globally to be cautious about the cyber security and to find ways to protect their computers, servers and other devices. Microsoft alerts them about the spreading firmware attacks which can possibly leak the credentials and financial information of the institutions.

A survey conducted by the cyber experts based on 1000 industries around UK, US, Japan, Germany and China discloses that around 75% of firms have experienced firmware attacks in the past two years.

Even after these malicious happenings, companies are not bothered to implement a firmware protection protocol and only 29% of them have been successful in allocating firmware protection.

A few days back the computing giant Microsoft has found a vulnerability which affected their email exchange systems. Immediately, they worked on the patch and fortunately brought about extra secure Windows 10 computers which have the capability to block firmwares.

How does firmware work?

Firmware is nothing but a permanent software code which controls the functioning of each hardware components in a system. The hackers design malware that has the capability to infect firmwares and take up commanding powers such as starting up of PC, working of different hardware drivers etc. They also take away the capacity of the system to detect malware since the functioning of the firmware code is manipulated by the malware. So these attacks remain undetected.

Cyber experts points out that even if the firms are focussing on security practices like patching the vulnerability, updating the operating system or protecting the corporate networks, they are neglecting about the firmware.

The patching of firmware is a tricky process. So most of the organizations become blind spotted while doing them, leaving them vulnerable to attacks.

One of the firmware that haunted companies for the last two years is the Robinhood ransomware. This ransomware compromises the firmware to get into the networks of the company and encrypts the files. The decryption key is only provided when the ransom has been paid in the form of bitcoin. The ransomware largely affected several US city governments.

Another firmware, Thunderspy uses Direct Memory Access (DMA) feature to infect the systems. This function is mainly used by the PC hardware components to communicate with each other.

Firmware attacks can infect a system without the knowledge of the user and has the ability to read and copy data without leaving a trace of evidence. They are so powerful that they can perform attacks when the hard drive is encrypted, when the system is shutdown or it is set to sleep.

By decoding the pattern of attacks, firmware attacks do not target individuals or consumers. They mainly focus on big companies. The major reason behind this is that only big organizations have specific type of firmware or motherboard suitable to perform the attack. If the attack is successful, the hackers can grab a huge amount of ransom.

Firmware attacks are not commonly practiced as it is complicated to perform compared to other types of cyber-attacks.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology reveals that, the databases around the world have experienced five time increase in firmware attacks in the last 4 years.

The pandemic has sent thousands of employees to work from home where different people connected remotely to work servers. In this situation, each of the employees is a pathway to reach the company servers.

This situation has created an increase in firmware attacks. This kind of complicated attack is not performed by local hacker groups. They are commonly used by the Nation-state hackers.

How to establish firmware security?

  • Update firmware constantly

Updates released by the developers can be of two types, one that patches the open vulnerabilities and the other which updates the firmware. Always update the firmware to the latest version in order to close the loop holes and keep the hardware to function properly.

  • Never use unauthorized external devices such as USB

Hackers often use USB as a source to perform firmware attacks. They store malwares in these drives and leave them in public. If someone picks them and connects to their system, the malware starts affecting the firmware and leads to malicious happenings.

  • Install a software that protects your system from firmware attacks

Majority of the cyber-attacks against organizations can be prevented by using stable security software which helps to detect and block malicious malwares from entering into the system or network.


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