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BadBIOS: has a researcher discovered an indestructible rootkit?

John E Dunn | Nov. 6, 2013
The malware infects all operating systems, resists even low-level attempts to remove it and can communicate with other infected PCs even when both systems are isolated from one another.

A respected security researcher has reported finding an apparently new type of malware that infects all operating systems, resists even low-level attempts to remove it and can communicate with other infected PCs even when both systems are isolated from one another.

It sounds like a tale from a book on urban legends but security expert Dragos Ruiu has spent the last three years documenting the behaviour of a malware phenomenon he now calls 'badBIOS' but might be better described using the words 'paranoia' or 'mind games'.

Exactly what it is designed to do he still doesn't know and in truth his claims would be totally ignored as far-fetched nonsense if he weren't also the founder of the prominent Pwn2Own hacking even as well as the organiser of CanSecWest.

Ruiu told Ars Technica that he first encountered badBIOS in 2010 when he noticed that a Mac OS X system refused to boot from a CD even after he'd installed a fresh copy of the OS; whatever had the system in its grip was able to control the BIOS configuration, undoing changes designed to counter its behaviour.

Bizarre to report but the same behaviour eventually spread to another of his systems running Open BSD Linux with the same configuration-changing symptoms. Whatever was carrying out these actions used IPv6 to transmit data regardless of whether that protocol was enabled on the system.

He further claims that infected systems could transmit small amounts of data to each other even when no interface cards (Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth) were installed.

Impossible?

"We had an air-gapped computer that just had its [firmware] BIOS reflashed, a fresh disk drive installed, and zero data on it, installed from a Windows system CD," Ruiu told Ars Technica.

"At one point, we were editing some of the components and our registry editor got disabled. It was like: wait a minute, how can that happen? How can the machine react and attack the software that we're using to attack it? This is an air-gapped machine and all of a sudden the search function in the registry editor stopped working when we were using it to search for their keys," said Ruiu.

After years of fruitless research, he had decided to publicise the issue he believes suggests that the malware has found a foolproof way to infect and control any computer's BIOS (specifically UEFI) chip in ways that make it impossible to detect directly let alone remove.

As to how badBIOS-infected systems communicate, Ruiu has proposed the almost incredible theory that it must be using ultrasonic audio communications, that is by sending signals via a PC speaker of the transmitting system and the microphone of the receiving system.

 

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