Malware abuses Intel Chip Management Feature to infiltrate
Hackers have been known to use creative and innovative ideas to break into a system. However, it is usually by means of deceiving the user and/or exploiting loopholes. This security breach however, happens to the rare scenario when a hacker has utilized a software in the exact way as it was designed to be used to hack into a system.
Bypassing the Firewall
Microsoft has announced that a group going by the name of Platinum has made use of Intel’s Active Management Technology (AMT) to bypass Window’s firewall completely. The tool is available on machines running Intel’s vPro line of processors and chipsets. The group has its own file transfer tool which utilizes – for its communication services – Serial-over-LAN (SOL) channel from within the AMT. This channel has been designed to operate independently of the Operating System running on the machine and therefore, the tool is able to bypass Window’s firewall thus making it ” invisible to firewall and network monitoring applications running on the host device.”
The Serial-Over-Lan (SOL) channel” exposes a virtual serial device with a chipset-provided channel over TCP” is not enabled by default, and requires administrative privileges to actually run on the target workstations. Since the provisioning of such a channel is bound by the use of user credentials – username and password – the Redmond giant speculates that PLATINUM “might have obtained compromised credentials from victim networks”.
The AMT firmware runs at a low level, below the operating system, and it has access to not just the processor, but also the network interface.The software allows a user to remotely install an OS on a machine that does not have one yet, allows for the power cycling of devices and also provides an IP based KVM (Keyboard,Video,Mouse) solution to enable users to accomplish these tasks.
This is what Microsoft had to say in a public statement:
We confirmed that the tool did not expose vulnerabilities in the management technology itself, but rather misused AMT SOL within target networks that have already been compromised to keep communication stealthy and evade security applications.
The new SOL protocol within the PLATINUM file-transfer tool makes use of the AMT Technology SDK’s Redirection Library API (imrsdk.dll). Data transactions are performed by the calls IMR_SOLSendText()/IMR_SOLReceiveText(), which are analogous to networking send() and recv() calls. The SOL protocol used is identical to the TCP protocol other than the addition of a variable-length header on the data for error detection. Also, the updated client sends an unencrypted packet with the content “007? before authentication.
Not everyone needs to be worried about this however, since machines running Windows 10 version 1607 or later and Configuration Manager 1610 or later are deemed protected for this or any other attack by the same means. This system configuration is not only capable of detecting a targeted attack activity but it can also “differentiate between legitimate usage of AMT SOL and targeted attacks attempting to use it as a communication channel.”
The company has also said this is the first attack that has utilized chipset features for its purposes and it does not expose the vulnerabilities of Intel’s AMT software, rather it uses the technology to evade security systems in a complex and compromised network. Microsoft has also released a video alongside the public statement for users to understand how the attack takes shape which you can check out below.