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posted by martyb on Monday June 20 2016, @10:12AM   Printer-friendly
from the One-ring-to-bring-them-all-and-in-the-darkness-bind-them... dept.

From Damien Zammit, we have this fun little tidbit:

Recent Intel x86 processors implement a secret, powerful control mechanism that runs on a separate chip that no one is allowed to audit or examine. When these are eventually compromised, they'll expose all affected systems to nearly un-killable, undetectable rootkit attacks. I've made it my mission to open up this system and make free, open replacements, before it's too late.

The Intel Management Engine (ME) is a subsystem composed of a special 32-bit ARC microprocessor that's physically located inside the chipset. It is an extra general purpose computer running a firmware blob that is sold as a management system for big enterprise deployments.

When you purchase your system with a mainboard and Intel x86 CPU, you are also buying this hardware add-on: an extra computer that controls the main CPU. This extra computer runs completely out-of-band with the main x86 CPU meaning that it can function totally independently even when your main CPU is in a low power state like S3 (suspend).

On some chipsets, the firmware running on the ME implements a system called Intel's Active Management Technology (AMT). This is entirely transparent to the operating system, which means that this extra computer can do its job regardless of which operating system is installed and running on the main CPU.

The purpose of AMT is to provide a way to manage computers remotely (this is similar to an older system called "Intelligent Platform Management Interface" or IPMI, but more powerful). To achieve this task, the ME is capable of accessing any memory region without the main x86 CPU knowing about the existence of these accesses. It also runs a TCP/IP server on your network interface and packets entering and leaving your machine on certain ports bypass any firewall running on your system.

Yeah, and I'm sure they pinky-swear never to allow the NSA access to any computer via it. I'll be using AMD from now on, slower or not, thanks.

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  • (Score: 2, Informative) by gnampff on Monday June 20 2016, @11:09AM

    by gnampff (5658) on Monday June 20 2016, @11:09AM (#362823)

    There is one big difference between them.
    I can buy boards from other vendors than Dell or HP to not have that feature. I can choose not to install an additional card delivering this feature.
    But I _cannot_ choose to buy an Intel CPU without that feature. And AMD has something comparable so more or less all x86 is infected with it.
    And to make things worse lots of software is not usable on other architectures.
    So for the short to medium term those of us that cannot live without the power and/or compatibility of x86 are pretty much fucked.

    There is one thing left for the security conscious though. We can watch this thing closely with Wireshark and block it with pedantic firewall rules.

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  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by The Mighty Buzzard on Monday June 20 2016, @11:37AM

    We can watch this thing closely with Wireshark and block it with pedantic firewall rules.

    Yeah but you gotta do that with a separate firewall box. Its traffic doesn't go through the networking stack of your OS, so you can't block it there; has to be an upstream firewall. Guess that's one good use for outdated machines.

    My rights don't end where your fear begins.
    • (Score: 2) by RamiK on Monday June 20 2016, @03:17PM

      by RamiK (1813) on Monday June 20 2016, @03:17PM (#362920)

      Don't trust a firewall. Without the source of the firmware, you can't tell which protocols or packets to block. Either use a peripheral NIC to avoid the on-board one completely, or setup a VPN server and block everything else in the firewall.

      Personally I like using the under 10$ USB3 gigabit dongles. Most have good linux support and the new ones even come with extra USB3 ports so you're not losing a port. Haven't noticed any overhead either.

    • (Score: 2) by dingus on Tuesday June 21 2016, @09:27AM

      by dingus (5224) on Tuesday June 21 2016, @09:27AM (#363217)

      The hard part would be getting access to the enterprise software that controls these things, so you can get it to send out some packets. Then you can intercept them via the controller machine and analyze them.