Home » Blog » Discovery of new UEFI rootkit exposes an ugly truth: The attacks are invisible to us

Discovery of new UEFI rootkit exposes an ugly truth: The attacks are invisible to us

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Researchers have unpacked a serious cybersecurity discover—a malicious UEFI-based rootkit used within the wild since 2016 to make sure computer systems remained contaminated even when an working system is reinstalled or a tough drive is totally changed.

The firmware compromises the UEFI, the low-level and extremely opaque chain of firmware required as well up practically each fashionable pc. Because the software program that bridges a PC’s gadget firmware with its working system, the UEFI—brief for Unified Extensible Firmware Interface—is an OS in its personal proper. It’s situated in an SPI-connected flash storage chip soldered onto the pc motherboard, making it tough to examine or patch the code. As a result of it’s the very first thing to run when a pc is turned on, it influences the OS, safety apps, and all different software program that follows.

Unique, sure. Uncommon, no.

On Monday, researchers from Kaspersky profiled CosmicStrand, the safety agency’s title for a complicated UEFI rootkit that the corporate detected and obtained by way of its antivirus software program. The discover is amongst solely a handful of such UEFI threats recognized to have been used within the wild. Till lately, researchers assumed that the technical calls for required to develop UEFI malware of this caliber put it out of attain of most risk actors. Now, with Kaspersky attributing CosmicStrand to an unknown Chinese language-speaking hacking group with potential ties to cryptominer malware, one of these malware will not be so uncommon in spite of everything.

“Essentially the most placing side of this report is that this UEFI implant appears to have been used within the wild because the finish of 2016—lengthy earlier than UEFI assaults began being publicly described,” Kaspersky researchers wrote. “This discovery begs a closing query: If that is what the attackers have been utilizing again then, what are they utilizing at the moment?”

Whereas researchers from fellow safety agency Qihoo360 reported on an earlier variant of the rootkit in 2017, Kaspersky and most different Western-based safety corporations didn’t take discover. Kaspersky’s newer analysis describes intimately how the rootkit—present in firmware photographs of some Gigabyte or Asus motherboards—is ready to hijack the boot means of contaminated machines. The technical underpinnings attest to the sophistication of the malware.

A rootkit is a chunk of malware that runs within the deepest areas of the working system it infects. It leverages this strategic place to cover details about its presence from the working system itself. A bootkit, in the meantime, is malware that infects the boot means of a machine as a way to persist on the system. The successor to legacy BIOS, UEFI is a technical normal defining how parts can take part within the startup of an OS. It’s essentially the most “current” one, because it was launched round 2006. At this time, virtually all gadgets assist UEFI in terms of the boot course of. The important thing level right here is that after we say one thing takes place on the UEFI degree, it implies that it occurs when the pc is beginning up, earlier than the working system has even been loaded. No matter normal is getting used throughout that course of is simply an implementation element, and in 2022, it’ll virtually at all times be UEFI anyway.

In an e-mail, Kaspersky researcher Ivan Kwiatkowski wrote:

So a rootkit might or will not be a bootkit, relying on the place it’s put in on the sufferer’s machine. A bootkit might or will not be a rootkit, so long as it contaminated a element used for the system startup (however contemplating how low-level these often are, bootkits will often be rootkits). And firmware is among the parts which might be contaminated by bootkits, however there are others, too. CosmicStrand occurs to be all of those on the identical time: It has the stealthy rootkit capabilities and infects the boot course of by way of malicious patching of the firmware picture of motherboards.

The workflow of CosmicStrand consists of setting “hooks” at fastidiously chosen factors within the boot course of. Hooks are modifications to the traditional execution circulation. They often come within the type of further code developed by the attacker, however in some instances, a reputable person might inject code earlier than or after a selected perform to result in new performance.

The CosmicStrand workflow appears to be like like this:

  • The preliminary contaminated firmware bootstraps the entire chain.
  • The malware units up a malicious hook within the boot supervisor, permitting it to switch Home windows’ kernel loader earlier than it’s executed.
  • By tampering with the OS loader, the attackers are capable of arrange one other hook in a perform of the Home windows kernel.
  • When that perform is later referred to as through the regular startup process of the OS, the malware takes management of the execution circulation one final time.
  • It deploys a shellcode in reminiscence and contacts the C2 server to retrieve the precise malicious payload to run on the sufferer’s machine.

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