The one with the ever-widening hole in it

I was rather startled to see this:

[E]very Intel platform with AMT, ISM, and SBT from Nehalem in 2008 to Kaby Lake in 2017 has a remotely exploitable security hole in the ME (Management Engine) not CPU firmware. If this isn’t scary enough news, even if your machine doesn’t have SMT, ISM, or SBT provisioned, it is still vulnerable, just not over the network. For the moment. From what SemiAccurate gathers, there is literally no Intel box made in the last 9+ years that isn’t at risk. This is somewhere between nightmarish and apocalyptic.

First a little bit of background. SemiAccurate has known about this vulnerability for literally years now, it came up in research we were doing on hardware backdoors over five years ago. What we found was scary on a level that literally kept us up at night. For obvious reasons we couldn’t publish what we found out but we took every opportunity to beg anyone who could even tangentially influence the right people to do something about this security problem. SemiAccurate explained the problem to literally dozens of “right people” to seemingly no avail. We also strongly hinted that it existed at every chance we had.

What do all those letters mean? Active Management Technology, Intel Standard Manageability Escalation of Privilege, and Small Business Technology. I found those in Intel’s security alert, issued a few hours after the SemiAccurate release. In the standard jargon:

There are two ways this vulnerability may be accessed please note that Intel® Small Business Technology is not vulnerable to the first issue.

An unprivileged network attacker could gain system privileges to provisioned Intel manageability SKUs: Intel® Active Management Technology (AMT) and Intel® Standard Manageability (ISM).

CVSSv3 9.8 Critical /AV:N/AC:L/PR:N/UI:N/S:U/C:H/I:H/A:H

An unprivileged local attacker could provision manageability features gaining unprivileged network or local system privileges on Intel manageability SKUs: Intel® Active Management Technology (AMT), Intel® Standard Manageability (ISM), and Intel® Small Business Technology (SBT).

CVSSv3 8.4 High /AV:L/AC:L/PR:N/UI:N/S:U/C:H/I:H/A:H

What does all this mean? To me, nothing: I’m using an AMD box. At work, well, I’ll just have to review some inventory. Says S|A:

The problem is quite simple, the ME controls the network ports and has DMA access to the system. It can arbitrarily read and write to any memory or storage on the system, can bypass disk encryption once it is unlocked (and possibly if it has not, SemiAccurate hasn’t been able to 100% verify this capability yet), read and write to the screen, and do all of this completely unlogged. Due to the network access abilities, it can also send whatever it finds out to wherever it wants, encrypted or not.

While these capabilities sounds crazy to put on a PC, they are there for very legitimate reasons. If an IT organization needs to re-image a system, you need to be able to remotely write to disk. Virus cleaning? Scan and write arbitrary bits. User logging and (legitimate) corporate snooping? That too. In short everything you need to manage a box can be exploited in ugly ways.

Intel is already supplying a firmware fix for at least some of the affected platforms.


  1. The Other McCain »

    2 May 2017 · 7:36 pm

    In The Mailbox: 5.02.17

    Dustbury: The One With The Ever-Widening Hole In It

  2. McG »

    2 May 2017 · 9:27 pm

    What does all this mean? To me, nothing: I’m using an AMD box.


  3. Holly H »

    3 May 2017 · 1:21 pm

    How about a Cliff’s Notes version? Clueless.

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