Brandon Wilson

Hardware giant narrowly averts PC security nightmare

April 6th, 2013

American Megatrends, a company that specializes in PC hardware and firmware, has attempted to calm the rising trend of the panic attacks over the cryptographic signing keys leak as well as the source code for its UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) BIOS, the code that starts up millions of computers around the world. On account of the code leak that took place, a security researcher and penetration tester Adam Caudill from United States received a warning from his research partner Brandon Wilson regarding a Taiwanese vendor who had left a FTP (File Transfer Protocol) server open for public browsing and downloading. This called for again new challenge regarding the computer protection which was more baneful after this security leak as by keeping the encryption software they could have easily averted such mishaps.

The take-off also included few more things among internal emails and other data – those were the source code for American Megatrends Incorporated’s UEFI BIOS and cryptographic signing keys used for verification of it. Therefore it was in the keen interest of the American Megatrends company to enable the proper encryption software for their computer protection in order to stop the security leak threatening them, every now and then. The company was afraid to access the source code for the UEFI BIOS and the cryptographic signing keys to verify the absolute binary programs, this led researchers to the development of the fear that attackers might create and/ or disseminate malicious updates which in turn, could be used to compromise and control millions and millions of computers worldwide for a long time to come. According to the researcher Caudill, “this kind of leak is a dream come true for advanced corporate espionage or intelligence operations. The ability to create a nearly undetectable, permanent hole in a system’s security is an ideal scenario for covert information collection,” He continued.

BIOS or the basic input/output system is a code stored in read-only memory which is non-volatile on personal computers as well as on other similar devices. It is assumed to run only when devices start up and loads operating systems, initialising of the hardware such as their keyboard, storage and videos beforehand. The company started developing a Unified Extensible Firmware Interface since 2005 to overcome the limitations of the original Basic Input Output System (BIOS) specifications – which was designed to suit the basic 16-bit computers decades ago, also to provide further features such as the cryptographic security for booting up. The hardware company, American Megatrends claims to the largest BIOS vendor in the world. It said so in response to the researchers Caudill and Wilson’s findings when it was revealed that the security keys on the FTP server were in fact meant for the testing and not used for the production systems.

Chief Executive and Co-founder of the American Megatrends, Subramonian Shankar stated in an interview after the security that “while today’s news is certainly distressing, AMI would like to reassure its customers and partners in no uncertain terms that this should not be a security concern for them.” Security Researcher Caudill after whatever happened noted that while AMI instructed all its vendors regarding the usage of its UEFI BIOS to change the key initially, before building a production environment, and it is not known till now that if the customer with the open FTP server was following that practice or not. Caudill did not reveal that which Taiwanese vendor had leaked the information.

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