Secured-core PCs offer new defense against firmware attacks

Microsoft, PC makers, and three major chipmakers team up to announce Secured-core PCs, designed to defend against PC firmware attacks.

Mark Hachman Oct 22nd 2019 A-A+
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Microsoft, chipmakers, and several PC makers on Monday announced Secured-core PCs, which use hardware-based defense mechanisms to combat firmware-level security attacks. 

Considering the products on the initial list of Secured-core PCs, it’s fair to say this initiative will be aimed at business users. For instance, Microsoft’s Surface Pro X is listed, but not the Surface Laptop 3. Other PCs on the roster include the Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, and a handful of others. AMD, Intel and Qualcomm all support the initiative. 

While there are software defenses in your PC to protect against attacks like ransomware, a firmware attack dives deeper, corrupting and/or attacking the fundamental code that governs the intersection of your PC and its hardware. If the firmware is compromised, the operating system may not even be able to tell, eliminating secure-boot capabilities and other protections.

A Secured-core PC uses hardware as a shield. “Secured-core PCs combine identity, virtualization, operating system, hardware and firmware protection to add another layer of security underneath the operating system,” according to Microsoft.

Microsoft’s blog post goes into greater detail, but essentially what a Secured-core PC does is boot the system using the existing firmware, then re-initialize it into a trusted state. This prevents any virtualization capabilities from being compromised before they begin. It also allows admins to monitor that the device booted securely.

Secured-core PCs offer new defense against firmware attacks

Microsoft, PC makers, and three major chipmakers team up to announce Secured-core PCs, designed to defend against PC firmware attacks.

Mark Hachman
1_38.jpg

Microsoft, chipmakers, and several PC makers on Monday announced Secured-core PCs, which use hardware-based defense mechanisms to combat firmware-level security attacks. 

Considering the products on the initial list of Secured-core PCs, it’s fair to say this initiative will be aimed at business users. For instance, Microsoft’s Surface Pro X is listed, but not the Surface Laptop 3. Other PCs on the roster include the Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, and a handful of others. AMD, Intel and Qualcomm all support the initiative. 

While there are software defenses in your PC to protect against attacks like ransomware, a firmware attack dives deeper, corrupting and/or attacking the fundamental code that governs the intersection of your PC and its hardware. If the firmware is compromised, the operating system may not even be able to tell, eliminating secure-boot capabilities and other protections.

A Secured-core PC uses hardware as a shield. “Secured-core PCs combine identity, virtualization, operating system, hardware and firmware protection to add another layer of security underneath the operating system,” according to Microsoft.

Microsoft’s blog post goes into greater detail, but essentially what a Secured-core PC does is boot the system using the existing firmware, then re-initialize it into a trusted state. This prevents any virtualization capabilities from being compromised before they begin. It also allows admins to monitor that the device booted securely.