Monday, May 15, 2017

Is The Intel Chip In Your Motherboard a backdoor?

Ever since Damien Zammit revealed Intel's Active Management Engine, a self-contained microcontroller, there have been calls for declaring this for what it is - a backdoor to your computer.

AME or ME (Management Engine) is a microcontroller, a fully independent CPU apart from the main CPU you know and control. It cannot be disabled. It is active even if your computer is in hibernation or turned off (as long as it's connected to the main outlet). It is placed there to help IT enterprise to manage computers remotely. This is a problem with the enterprise and this is Intel's solution.

Some points to remember about Intel's Management Engine:
  • It has full access to your computer's memory and everything it is connected to by TCP/IP; it can control memory and all peripherals.
  • It can send and receive network signals even if the computer is turned off or through a firewall.
  • It can't be disabled in new Intel chips. In Intel Core2 and newer processors.

I have a problem with the last point. If this is not a malicious feature (the intention is to help in management) the feature should be optional. If Management Engine is a security feature and should therefore be default and persistent then I object to it. In any case, the firmware to Management Engine is proprietary. Nobody but Intel can see and modify it. With the recent WNCry ransomware attack, I will hate to see Management Engine turned over to malicious parties.

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