Two pictures of the mobo side by side, both with kapton tape covering everything other than the flash chip. On the left, the flash chip is populated, whereas on the right it's not

Enabling Intel AMT For BIOS-over-WiFi

Intel ME, AMT, SMT, V-Pro… All of these acronyms are kind of intimidating, all we know about them is that they are tied to remote control technologies rooted deep in Intel CPUs, way deeper than even operating systems go. Sometimes though, you want remote control for your own purposes, and that’s what [ABy] achieved. He’s got a HP ProDesk 600 G3 Mini, decided to put it into a hard to reach spot in his flat, somewhere you couldn’t easily fetch a monitor and a keyboard for any debugging needs. So, he started looking into some sort of remote access option in case he’d need to access the BIOS remotely, and went as far as it took to make it work. (Google Translate)

The features he needed are covered by Intel AMT — specifically, BIOS access over a WiFi connection. However, his mini PC only had SMT enabled from the factory, the cut-down version of AMT without features like wireless support. He figured out that BIOS dumping was the way, promptly did just that, found a suitable set of tools for his ME region version, and enabled AMT using Intel’s FIT (Flash Image Tool) software.

Now, dumping the image could be done from a running system fully through software, but apparently, flashing back requires an external programmer. He went with the classic CH341, did the 3.3 V voltmod that’s required to make it safe for flash chip use, and proceeded to spend a good amount of time making it work. Something about the process was screwy, likely the proprietary CH341 software. Comments under the article highlight that you should use flashrom for these tasks, and indeed, you should.

This article goes into a ton of detail when it comes to working with Intel BIOS images — whichever kind of setting you want to change, be it AMT support or some entirely different but just as tasty setting, you will be well served by this write-up. Comments do point out that you might want to upgrade the Intel ME version while at it, and for what it’s worth, you can look into disabling it too; we’ve shown you a multitude of reasons why you should, and a good few ways you could.

What You Need To Know About The Intel Management Engine

Over the last decade, Intel has been including a tiny little microcontroller inside their CPUs. This microcontroller is connected to everything, and can shuttle data between your hard drive and your network adapter. It’s always on, even when the rest of your computer is off, and with the right software, you can wake it up over a network connection. Parts of this spy chip were included in the silicon at the behest of the NSA. In short, if you were designing a piece of hardware to spy on everyone using an Intel-branded computer, you would come up with something like the Intel Managment Engine.

Last week, researchers¬†[Mark Ermolov] and [Maxim Goryachy] presented an exploit at BlackHat Europe¬†allowing for arbitrary code execution on the Intel ME platform. This is only a local attack, one that requires physical access to a machine. The cat is out of the bag, though, and this is the exploit we’ve all been expecting. This is the exploit that forces Intel and OEMs to consider the security implications of the Intel Management Engine. What does this actually mean?

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The Trouble With Intel’s Management Engine

Something is rotten in the state of Intel. Over the last decade or so, Intel has dedicated enormous efforts to the security of their microcontrollers. For Intel, this is the only logical thing to do; you really, really want to know if the firmware running on a device is the firmware you want to run on a device. Anything else, and the device is wide open to balaclava-wearing hackers.

Intel’s first efforts toward cryptographically signed firmware began in the early 2000s with embedded security subsystems using Trusted Platform Modules (TPM). These small crypto chips, along with the BIOS, form the root of trust for modern computers. If the TPM is secure, the rest of the computer can be secure, or so the theory goes.

The TPM model has been shown to be vulnerable to attack, though. Intel’s solution was to add another layer of security: the (Intel) Management Engine (ME). Extremely little is known about the ME, except for some of its capabilities. The ME has complete access to all of a computer’s memory, its network connections, and every peripheral connected to a computer. It runs when the computer is hibernating, and can intercept TCP/IP traffic. Own the ME and you own the computer.

There are no known vulnerabilities in the ME to exploit right now: we’re all locked out of the ME. But that is security through obscurity. Once the ME falls, everything with an Intel chip will fall. It is, by far, the scariest security threat today, and it’s one that’s made even worse by our own ignorance of how the ME works.

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