“ME has access to everything that is important. It has unconstrained access to DRAM, to the actual CPU, to GPU, it can also talk to your networking card, especially your Ethernet card, the controller for which is also in the Southbridge in the processor. It also has its own dedicated partition on the SPI Flash which can be used to store whatever ME wants to store there. This is really problematic, and we don’t know what it runs.”
See Trustworthy x86 laptops? There is a way, says system-level security aceSoftware, firmware, hardware, they are all powerful and essential… but can you trust them? In the wrong hands all of them can be tools of those who are out to get you one way or another. With governments and corporations abounding that want to snoop or copy or sabotage there are plenty of bad apples in the barrel. We can do something about this with FLOSS, that’s one of many reason to love FLOSS. Firmware is another matter if we just accept binary blobs without understanding. Then there’s the hardware.
What if your CPU, the all-knowing, singing, dancing CPU that can do thousands of things at once with access to your hardware, software, data and networks is compromised by the maker? Do you feel lucky? Well, do you, punk? (Dirty Harry). Intel has been the big maker of PC and server CPUs. They want to add their own binary blob right into their CPUs. It’s their leverage, their way of “adding value”, but is it good for your security to have a back door deliberately installed in the heart of your hardware? Do you trust ultimately Intel, the corporation that used to pay OEMs not to install a competitor’s CPUs? They do lack a certain morality, far below the bare minimum we require of any supplier. AMD may be no better even though they were Intel’s victim. They are struggling. Would they be willing to do the same given a sweet deal by some government or criminal organization? We just don’t know.
ARM may be a bit better because of their openness but they don’t produce chips directly. They provide building blocks. Any malware can be built into units containing the ARMed hardware we all love.
Thin clients can help by keeping important data away from the CPUs but that still leaves in doubt the hardware of the servers and even the networking chips. At any stage malware can be given a free ride on stuff you own. Is it hopeless? Not quite. We still have the possibility of having open hardware right down to the masks used in the fabrication of chips. That has to happen before all this IT can be fully trusted. Given the present climate, I expect to see cloud-funded masks for FABs within a few years. We’ll have to render binary blobs in firmware also transparent. It will happen. We have the power. Just stop buying that other stuff until the required transparency is available.