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posted by janrinok on Wednesday December 06, @06:49PM   Printer-friendly
from the what-people-want dept.

Submitted via IRC for TheMightyBuzzard

Linux computer vendor System76 announced this week that it will roll out a firmware update to disable Intel Management Engine on laptops sold in the past few years. Purism will also disable Intel Management Engine on computers it sells moving forward. Those two computer companies are pretty small players in the multi-billion dollar PC industry. …

... Intel's Management Engine is a hardware and software system designed to provide some remote management features. But it's come under criticism from privacy advocates, security researchers, and the free and open source software community.

That's because Intel Management Engine is basically a mystery. It's software that runs independently of a computer's operating system, which means that even if you wipe the OS, the Management Engine is still there. And there's no good way to know what it's doing.

The risks aren't just theoretical – Intel recently acknowledged a security vulnerability affecting nearly every PC that shipped with a 6th, 7th, or 8th-gen Intel Core processor. While the company is working with PC makers to roll out updates to patch that vulnerability, it wouldn't even exist if Intel hadn't bundled a feature many users don't need and won't use with its latest chips.

System76 are making a similar move:

System76 is one a handful of companies that sells computers that run Linux software out of the box. But like most PCs that have shipped with Intel’s Core processors in the past few years, System76 laptops include Intel’s Management Engine firmware. Intel recently confirmed a major security vulnerability affecting those chips and it’s working with …

Source: https://liliputing.com/2017/12/dell-also-sells-laptops-intel-management-engine-disabled.html

Source: https://liliputing.com/2017/11/system76-will-disable-intel-management-engine-linux-laptops.html


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  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Justin Case on Wednesday December 06, @07:15PM (33 children)

    by Justin Case (4239) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday December 06, @07:15PM (#606294)

    This is a good first step: an official acknowledgment that there is a problem.

    But... disabled is not gone. And if it is disabled with "a firmware update" then that means it is really just a software adjustment, not a physical on-off switch that can't be ignored by malicious code.

    What one update can disable, the next update can re-enable. And the next "update" might be attached to that phishing Spam.

    Intel should provide a free replacement for every system containing its defective-by-design hardware. That would be the correct solution. So, of course, that won't happen.

    --
    When the government can crack your encryption, criminals can crack your encryption and drain your bank account.
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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 06, @07:23PM (8 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 06, @07:23PM (#606307)

    Also how can we know it really is ever disabled? We cannot.

    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Arik on Wednesday December 06, @07:34PM (6 children)

      by Arik (4543) on Wednesday December 06, @07:34PM (#606319)
      "Also how can we know it really is ever disabled?"

      Nuke them from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.
      --
      "Unix? These savages aren't even circumcised!"
      • (Score: 1, Offtopic) by DannyB on Wednesday December 06, @10:40PM (5 children)

        by DannyB (5839) on Wednesday December 06, @10:40PM (#606458)

        The Eunuchs savages said that circumcision status is not related to eunuch status as typically different organs are affected -- albeit they are very close together.

        • (Score: 2) by Arik on Thursday December 07, @12:09AM (4 children)

          by Arik (4543) on Thursday December 07, @12:09AM (#606484)
          >The penis and the penis are two different organs.

          Lolwut?
          --
          "Unix? These savages aren't even circumcised!"
          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @02:31AM (3 children)

            by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @02:31AM (#606571)

            Eunuch [wikipedia.org]:

            The term eunuch (/ˈjuːnək/; Greek: εὐνοῦχος)[1] generally refers to a man who has been castrated,[2] typically early enough in his life for this change to have major hormonal consequences. In Latin, the words eunuchus,[3] spado (Greek: σπάδων spadon),[4][5] and castratus were used to denote eunuchs.[6] [emphasis added]

            Circumcision [wikipedia.org]:

            Male circumcision is the removal of the foreskin from the human penis. [emphasis added]

            Castration [wikipedia.org]:

            Castration (also known as gonadectomy) is any action, surgical, chemical, or otherwise, by which an individual loses use of the testicles. [emphasis added]

            Apparently, you're unfamiliar with male physiology. Walter Peck [youtube.com], is that you?

            • (Score: 2) by Arik on Thursday December 07, @03:09AM (2 children)

              by Arik (4543) on Thursday December 07, @03:09AM (#606598)
              Yes, it's possible (inside the definition) to create a eunuch by simply removing the testicles. However the word is mostly associated with the Arab slave trade, and rightly so, they made lots and lots of eunuchs over a very long period of time. And they typically removed the entire penis.
              --
              "Unix? These savages aren't even circumcised!"
              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @03:17AM

                by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @03:17AM (#606603)

                So that's how it happened is it, Walter?

              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @03:24AM

                by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @03:24AM (#606609)

                Yes, it's possible (inside the definition) to create a eunuch by simply removing the testicles. However the word is mostly associated with the Arab slave trade, and rightly so, they made lots and lots of eunuchs over a very long period of time. And they typically removed the entire penis.

                I'm thinking you're confused (not having a dick can do that, I guess), as it was the Chinese, not the Arabs who routinely removed the penis as well as the testicles when creating eunuchs.

                But I won't fault you for that. I'm sure you get plenty of grief from others, due to your near-constant blathering.

    • (Score: 2) by RamiK on Wednesday December 06, @08:58PM

      by RamiK (1813) on Wednesday December 06, @08:58PM (#606394)

      Delid a mobile x86 designed to run without a fan and take a few before-and-after shots with a high-res IR thermal camera maybe?

      --
      compiling...
  • (Score: 2) by The Mighty Buzzard on Wednesday December 06, @07:34PM (17 children)

    You're misinformed. The software being disabled can't be rewritten from within the operating system, barring bugs. Disabling every bit of it that takes outside input goes a long, long way towards making it impossible to alter it again without physical access to the machine and special hardware.

    --
    We've got #BieberFever [soylentnews.org]!
    • (Score: 2) by Justin Case on Wednesday December 06, @07:43PM (14 children)

      by Justin Case (4239) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday December 06, @07:43PM (#606328)

      Interesting. Please inform me. (I've been trying to get facts about IME for years, but mostly I hear hand-wavy stuff.)

      How is the firmware update applied? With special hardware and physical access?

      barring bugs

      I find your faith disturbing. :)

      --
      When the government can crack your encryption, criminals can crack your encryption and drain your bank account.
      • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Wednesday December 06, @07:55PM (9 children)

        by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday December 06, @07:55PM (#606346) Journal

        Let me take what at least amounts to a semi-educated guess as to how it is disabled. They're flashing the BIOS. That is generally how all firmwares have been updated. You have to boot to something - Windows or DrDos or something - and initiate a flash sequence. It would be rather hard to disguise a flash. I'm sure it can be done, but at some point, a savvy user should realize that something unusual is happening. Until informed otherwise, I'll presume that few if any of us are going to click through a malware bios installation. But, the unwashed masses? Yeah, I can see that happening. (Yeah, I realize that new computers don't use the same kind of BIOS that I still use, but basically, same-o-same-o, right?)

        --
        #Hillarygropedme
        • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 06, @08:31PM (5 children)

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 06, @08:31PM (#606372)

          Windows or DrDos or something

          Sigh. It was DR-DOS, not Dr DOS. DR: Digital Research. No medical degrees were involved.

          • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Wednesday December 06, @09:02PM (4 children)

            by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday December 06, @09:02PM (#606399) Journal

            Hey, I didn't STUDY the boot screens. I like DrDos - it looks cool. And, it's close enough that you knew what I meant.

            --
            #Hillarygropedme
            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 06, @09:56PM (3 children)

              by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 06, @09:56PM (#606430)

              Hey, I didn't STUDY the boot screens. I like DrDos

              I liked it, too, enough to buy it to use instead of Microsoft's then-inferior DOS. (Seriously. A fair number of MS-DOS "innovations" were direct feature-copying from DR-DOS.) I'm pretty sure the box, manual and diskette labels all clearly read "Digital Research". No boot-screen studying needed.

              Now you've got me wondering about the boot screens... DR-DOS 7.03 reads "Caldera DR-DOS", but that dates from after Novell and then Caldera owned it. I'll have to dig out my DR-DOS 5 and 6 disks to see what it read back when it was still owned by Digital Research.

              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @01:18AM (2 children)

                by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @01:18AM (#606513)

                I'll follow you down that rabbit hole. I've got a set of DR DOS 6.0 disks here (note: no hyphen) that are clearly labelled Digital Research. When you boot it up, the copyright notice shown is for DR DOS Release 6.0 and it's copyright Digital Research, Inc.

                • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Thursday December 07, @02:32AM (1 child)

                  by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Thursday December 07, @02:32AM (#606572) Journal

                  Thank you. I didn't remember the hyphen noted by AC. I did misremember the Dr vs DR. Most DOS's ran their names together, such as TRSDOS and MSDOS, but it seemed to me that DR DOS had a space.

                  Looking back, I can't remember how many DOS's there were, or how many of them were just licensed versions of DR DOS, or any other version.

                  --
                  #Hillarygropedme
                  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @04:07AM

                    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @04:07AM (#606632)

                    You're not alone. I had a couple of friends at the time who would refer to it in speech as Doctor DOS. They were subject to numerous eye-rolls. I remember someone else referring to Microsoft's product as Ms. DOS ("Miz DOS") when Doctor DOS was mentioned.

        • (Score: 5, Informative) by sjames on Wednesday December 06, @10:06PM (2 children)

          by sjames (2882) on Wednesday December 06, @10:06PM (#606436) Journal

          Actually, re-flashing can easily be done silently in the background. It's just that vendors are much too lazy to update their flasher to anything newer than DOS.

          All that is actually necessary is the right pattern of reads and writes to the flash chip. In Windows, that requires kernel level access, so a hacked driver will be involved, but if you can get admin level access, you're in, and even after the system is "cleaned up", you're still in.

          • (Score: 2) by FatPhil on Thursday December 07, @03:16PM (1 child)

            by FatPhil (863) <reversethis-{if.fdsa} {ta} {tnelyos-cp}> on Thursday December 07, @03:16PM (#606812) Homepage
            The IME should be able to block the writes to the flash (it should act as a gatekeeper for all peripheral accesses, which is why it can happily talk on the ethernet without the processor knowing about it). Best of all, it will lie to the OS about such writes, making it think they've worked. If you're paranoid enough to read what you've written back, you'll realise nothing will have changed. At least, that's how the ARM equivalent works, Intel may have designed something less functional than ARM.
            --
            I was worried about my command. I was the scientist of the Holy Ghost.
            • (Score: 2) by sjames on Thursday December 07, @07:20PM

              by sjames (2882) on Thursday December 07, @07:20PM (#606951) Journal

              So the "disabled" ME will prevent the firmware update?

              You would definitely notice if the writes are shot down since the flash chip's state engine won't respond appropriately when you read status.

      • (Score: 3, Informative) by The Mighty Buzzard on Wednesday December 06, @09:54PM (3 children)

        It can be done through a USB device (not through the OS, the USB device is essentially a JTAG programmer exploiting a bug in the existing firmware) or via physically clipping on to the chip to program it.

        Not faith, really. Disable the bits that are being disabled and it's stuck with some very narrow attack surfaces that it's genuinely possible there actually are no exploitable bugs in.

        --
        We've got #BieberFever [soylentnews.org]!
        • (Score: 2) by sjames on Thursday December 07, @01:23AM (2 children)

          by sjames (2882) on Thursday December 07, @01:23AM (#606519) Journal

          That is, as far as we know, needed to modify the firmware without having the signing key. If you have the signing key, you can just flash the BIOS to load the signed image on boot. Presumably, you can load the already signed official firmware with the known security flaws without having the signing key.

          For all we know, the signing key has already leaked. Considering how tight lipped Intel has been, I doubt they'd tell us about such a leak even if they knew.

          Meanwhile, didn't Intel claim the chipset couldn't boot with the ME disabled at one time?

          • (Score: 2) by The Mighty Buzzard on Thursday December 07, @01:59AM (1 child)

            They're not entirely disabling it or it wouldn't boot at all. They're likely combining both approaches used so far. Setting the CIA's "fuck you, Intel" bit and disabling or removing all the modules that would activate after the ones to allow the system to simply boot are run.

            --
            We've got #BieberFever [soylentnews.org]!
            • (Score: 2) by sjames on Thursday December 07, @03:08AM

              by sjames (2882) on Thursday December 07, @03:08AM (#606594) Journal

              That sounds like a somewhat fragile disabling. I wouldn't bet on it being that hard to turn back on.

    • (Score: 2) by sjames on Wednesday December 06, @09:59PM (1 child)

      by sjames (2882) on Wednesday December 06, @09:59PM (#606433) Journal

      barring bugs

      That ship has sailed.

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by bradley13 on Wednesday December 06, @07:45PM (5 children)

    by bradley13 (3053) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday December 06, @07:45PM (#606330) Homepage Journal

    You're right, of course, but for the moment disabling is the only option.

    However, having a big manufacturer like Dell disabling the engine is a huge pile of egg in Intel's face. Add in the undoubtedly exciting reactions from customers like the government, and many large businesses, and it is possible that Intel will rethink the whole concept. Offer the ME only to people who actually want it. Even better, of course, would be to eliminate it entirely. Wake-on-LAN and similar functions could be handled with relative simple hardware - there's just no need to have an entire operating system running in there.

    Why Intel ever thought this was a good idea? Frankly, it reminds me of the VW emissions scandal. "No one will ever notice, if we just stay quiet" becomes "No one will find any security holes, if we never publish the code". Stupid, really.

    Meanwhile, I'm sure the ME is now under attack by zillions of hackers. How long until they find the backdoor the government asked Intel to install? Odd are good that there is one...

    --
    Everyone is somebody else's weirdo.
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Runaway1956 on Wednesday December 06, @08:18PM (3 children)

      by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday December 06, @08:18PM (#606359) Journal

      Frankly, it reminds me of the VW emissions scandal.

      Well, Frank, it reminds me of Intel's own decision, years ago, to force every Intel chip to identify itself with a unique identifier in all communications with the outside world. https://www.wired.com/2000/04/intel-nixes-chip-tracking-id/ [wired.com] Despite any claims to the contrary, that identifier was ideal for regimes wanting to squash dissidents, fascist corporations wanting to kill piracy, or even stalkers slurping data on their victims. Imagine, every forum such as this, forced to query your intel identifier, and to post that identifier as part of your user name. Instead of Bradley13, you might be BradleyATPO490B715Q99 because that identity was supplied by your CPU when you registered. Given the opportunity, there are government agencies who would be happy to mandate that everyone is identified in such a manner. Goodbye anonymity!

      On the up side, those agencies wouldn't really need all those backdoors they want into our machines. Hell, if we're identifying ourselves in full with every post we ever make, there won't be much need to hack into our machines!

      --
      #Hillarygropedme
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @02:02AM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @02:02AM (#606549)

        That CPUID was simply replaced by motherboard bios serials, hard drive serials, memory dimm serials, video card serial ids, and ethernet mac addresses?

        After people won on the CPUID front nobody made enough of a ruckus, and even *IF* the cpu doesn't have a hidden cpuid instruction still operating within it somewhere for government types to interrogate, every other facet of the system does. And if they can get one of those, nevermind 3 of them, they can identify pretty much every person using a computer unless *ALL* computer purchases were used and made with cash.

        I've had this concern for a number of years and it was one of the secondary reasons I quite playing MMOs. Any application with root or administrator level access can poll both the DMI information block (mobo, memory, and sometimes hdd serials) from the bios, as well as the AMD/Nvidia GUID, as well as the network hardware address (which may even be available to unprivileged users on many systems, such as linux and windows, read-only even as an unprivileged user!) Any one of these can determine the original OEM owner of the device if they paid with a credit card, or went to a store, like fry's or microcenter, that requires your name/phone number when ordering a behind the counter item, which cpu, memory, motherboard, video card and hard disks may be, depending on store and pricing. Excluding of course loss prevention videofeeds that could easily be (if they are not already) sent to the FBI/NSA for facial recognition along with purchasing records. Facial recognition may not be that accurate by itself, but if you combine it with nearby matches and a database of 'verified' hits along with historical drivers license/passport photos and any time a person purchased using credit card, or with identifying information tied via in store sales desk purchases, you can quickly narrow it down to real hits and tie the hardware to them.

        This doesn't stop criminals/used hardware purchasers from staying under the radar, but it helps keep track of the sheeple who are usually considered the far bigger 'actual' threat, since there aren't enough criminals to rebel against the system, but if the plebs ever start, then having a historical record of their hardware so you can either falsify or more than likely find something legitimate to prosecute them over which can all be tied together with their hardware serial numbers and in-store video feeds.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @03:43PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, @03:43PM (#606829)

        Today browsers would have a DOM API call to read the cpuid.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Arik on Thursday December 07, @12:45AM

      by Arik (4543) on Thursday December 07, @12:45AM (#606499)
      "How long until they find the backdoor the government asked Intel to install? "

      Well it's already been cracked. https://www.dvhardware.net/article67664.html

      It runs Minix btw.

      Now just imagine if Tannenbaum had been smart enough to use the GPL.
      --
      "Unix? These savages aren't even circumcised!"