Dark Firmware: A Systematic Approach to Exploring Application Security Risks in the Presence of Untrusted Firmware


Duha Ibdah, Nada Lachtar, Abdulrahman Abu Elkhail, Anys Bacha, and Hafiz Malik, University of Michigan, Dearborn


Compromising lower levels of the computing stack is attractive to attackers since malware that resides in layers that span firmware and hardware are notoriously difficult to detect and remove. This trend raises concerns about the security of the system components that we have grown accustomed to trusting, especially as the number of supply chain attacks continues to rise. In this work, we explore the risks associated with application security in the presence of untrusted firmware. We present a novel firmware attack that leverages system management cycles to covertly collect data from the application layer. We show that system interrupts that are used for managing the platform, can be leveraged to extract sensitive application data from outgoing requests even when the HTTPS protocol is used. We evaluate the robustness of our attack under diverse and stressful application usage conditions running on Ubuntu 18.04 and Android 8.1 operating systems. We conduct a proof-of-concept implementation of the attack using firmware configured to run with the aforementioned OSs and a mix of popular applications without disrupting the normal functionality of the system. Finally, we discuss a possible countermeasure that can be used to defend against firmware attacks.

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@inproceedings {259699,
author = {Duha Ibdah and Nada Lachtar and Abdulrahman Abu Elkhail and Anys Bacha and Hafiz Malik},
title = {Dark Firmware: A Systematic Approach to Exploring Application Security Risks in the Presence of Untrusted Firmware},
booktitle = {23rd International Symposium on Research in Attacks, Intrusions and Defenses ({RAID} 2020)},
year = {2020},
isbn = {978-1-939133-18-2},
address = {San Sebastian},
pages = {413--426},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/raid2020/presentation/ibdah},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},
month = oct,