Saturday, June 18, 2016

The "secret" intel chip

Chip on chip is hardly new. But, we generally know what they are. Blogger Damien Zammit writes, "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 unkillable, undetectable rootkit attacks."

If what Damien is percepting is true, this could be a huge problem and would be a clear cyberwar target.

In Network World, Andy Patrizo poo poo's the alarming statement, "The impending doom comes from the Intel Management Engine (ME), a subsystem that uses a 32-bit Argonaut RISC Core (ARC) microprocessor that's physically located inside the x86 chipset. It's described as "an extra general purpose computer running a firmware blob that is sold as a management system for big enterprise deployments." 

The ME engine runs completely out-of-band with the x86 CPU, so it runs independent of the PC, even when your main CPU is in a low power state like suspend. On some chipsets, the firmware running on the ME implements a system called Intel's Active Management Technology (AMT). AMT is used for remote management of the PC for things like upgrades and installations, which can be done even when a laptop is powered off. ME was introduced on the Core 2 series introduced in 2006 and is in every CPU since then."

Where is truth? Computers have had this basic capability for at least a decade, it is called Wake on LAN. Howtogeek says, "Wake-on-LAN is an industry standard protocol for waking computers up from a very low power mode remotely. The definition of “low power mode” has changed a bit over time, but we can take it to mean while the computer is “off” and has access to a power source. The protocol also allows for a supplementary Wake-on-Wireless-LAN ability as well."

The key point is that Wake on LAN is industry standard, the new Intel management chip is proprietary. We will have to watch and see.

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