Researchers to compromise vPro

Intel security features to be breached at Black Hat D.C., lab promises

A pair of researchers claim to have figured out how to circumnavigate the security protections in Intel's vPro remote management technology. Rafal Wojtczuk and Joanna Rutkowska, both of Invisible Things Lab, plan to demonstrate their findings with a proof-of-concept presentation at the Black Hat DC conference, to be held next month in Washington.

Intel appears to be taking the claims of this vulnerability seriously, given the prior reputation of the researchers in the field of IT security, as well as the work they've already submitted to microprocessor company. "This is something we are looking at," said George Alfs, an Intel spokesperson.

Neither Intel nor Rutkowska would discuss the technical details of the vulnerability. Alfs noted that the company has seen no malicious code that exploits the vulnerability.

According to a statement released by the lab, the attack is based on design flaws within Intel's Trusted Execution Technology (TXT). TXT, part of the Intel vPro offering, is a set of extensions to the CPU and the chipset that allow protected memory and monitored booting. It also offers either local or remote verification through the Trusted Platform Module crypto-processors.

"Our research shows how an attacker can compromise the integrity of software loaded via an Intel TXT-based loader in a generic way," the researchers write in their statement. They claim to have written sample code that subverts the trusted boot process (called tboot) for Linux and the Xen virtualization software.

"Our attack comprises two stages: The first stage requires an implementation flaw in a specific system software. The second stage of the attack is possible thanks to a certain design decision made in the current TXT release," the duo write.

The researchers said they submitted details about the flaw to Intel in December. Alfs confirmed that the lab did submit the bug report and is working with Wojtczuk and Rutkowska to understand their findings. Alfrs said the company has worked with Rutkowska in the past on other security-related matters.

Since vPro-enhanced microprocessors are a relatively new offering, the technology has not been widely deployed and the danger for misuse is relatively limited, the researchers say. Moreover, only a small percentage of vPro deployments currently use the TXT functionality, Alfs added.  One software product that uses the technology is Citrix's Xen virtualization software.

VPro, an Intel-specific implementation of the Desktop and Mobile Architecture for System Hardware, is a standard set of interfaces for managing desktop and laptop computers over a network. The vPro interface is a feature on the current versions of the Intel Core 2 Duo and Centrino microprocessors.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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