6 reasons chip hacks will become more popular

Code embedded in hardware has vulnerabilities and it's harder to patch. That will make it a target for hackers.

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The recent Intel firmware vulnerability reminded me of an article I’ve been wanting to write for a few months. The essence is that firmware and chips can be hacked. They (or their related controller chips) contain software-like instructions that usually contain vulnerable security flaws. They are just harder to update.

Repeat after me: “Chips and firmware are just harder-to-patch software.” Because of this, and other reasons, I fully expect more frequent hacks at the firmware and hardware-layer in the future.

[Related: -->Vulnerability hits Intel enterprise PCs going back 10 years]

1. More security will be driven at the chip level

Taking the lead of the Trustworthy Computing Group’s initiatives, more and more computer security is being driven and secured at the chip-level. It started with efforts such as Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chips embedded on nearly every computer, OPAL self-encrypting hard drives, the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), hardware-based hypervisors such as Intel’s Virtualization Technology (VT-x) and AMD’s Virtualization (AMD-V), and myriad other chip- and firmware-led technologies by chip vendors and manufacturers.

More and more, security is starting at the chip-level. For example, Microsoft doesn’t just use hardware-based virtualization chips for its flagship Hyper-V virtual machine technology. Hardware-based security is the basis of many of its strongest and most recent technologies, including DeviceGuard, Credential Guard and AppGuard. Expect most operating system and chip vendors to offer more hardware-driven security in the future.

The main reason why hardware-based security is growing is because it puts security in charge sooner in the computing cycle. The closer security is to the electronic components, the harder it is for hackers and malware to get into the pathway to disable or take control of it. To defeat hardware-based security and gain access to the protected applications and data, hackers and their malware creations will increasingly need to attack the hardware.

2. Hardware hacks are often multi-platform

Although most computers come with a pre-installed operating system, most can run multiple platforms. For example, my Windows 10 laptop can run Linux, BSD and myriad nix variants. Apple computers often run Microsoft Windows using virtual machine software. A hardware-based vulnerability often puts the hacker or malware in control before the operating system is in charge of security, meaning that it can bypass any operating system’s security controls. While writing malware that could take advantage of a hardware flaw across multiple operating systems is still a huge obstacle, simply having the ability to get around multiple operating system’s protection is a giant advantage for any hacker.

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