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Security researcher says new malware can affect your BIOS; be transmitted via the air

Ian Paul | Nov. 4, 2013
BadBIOS is supposedly capable of resisting erasure if someone reinstalls (known as flashing) the BIOS firmware. It is also platform-independent, which means it can infect and work across a wide array of PC operating systems

The reality of the badBIOS reality
That certainly sounds like a virus created in the realms of pure fantasy but, if badBIOS is real, it has some serious implications. Ruiu believes badBIOS is just the first wave of further malware payloads. Similar to other bad code, badBIOS would jump onto a machine and then call home for further instructions. What those instructions might be, if they even exist, is unknown.

The verified existence of badBIOS would also throw into serious doubt the viability of air-gap security, where sensitive files are read or created on PCs that never connect to the Internet. Security expert Bruce Schneier who recently assisted the Guardian in looking at documents from NSA leaker Edward Snowden used an air-gap computer for that work.

Without connecting to the Internet, it was believed, the only realistic way you could get a malware infection would be from an infected USB stick or other storage peripheral. Even then, without a live Internet connection, the impact of most malware infections would be mitigated. Spyware such as a keylogger, for example, would have a hard time delivering timely updates to its masters.

But even badBIOS' purported high-frequency infection method could be just the tip of a much larger digital iceberg. Anyone interested in some background information, should check out a blog post by Errata Security's Robert David Graham.

"There are other ways to do air-gapped communications using covert channels," Graham says in the post. "You might exploit blinking LEDs...monitor the voltage on the power supply...The average laptop computer has a godawful number of inputs/outputs that we don't quite realize."

The malware-filled future that badBIOS portends may sound scary, but it's too early to press panic buttons just yet. We can also take heart in the fact that knowing about a piece of malware and how it works is half the battle to defeating it.

And for anyone that loves to admire all things tech, malware or not, you have to admit that badBIOS (if it's real) would be a pretty impressive hack.


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