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Start-Up Warns Of AMD Chip Flaws In Unusual Publicity Campaign

14 March 2018

The AMD Secure Processor is also allegedly at risk from another set of flaws that CTS Labs has dubbed Masterkey. "We have just received a report from a company called CTS Labs claiming there are potential security vulnerabilities related to certain of our processors", an AMD spokesperson wrote on AMD's investor relations site. The folks at GamersNexus spoke to a few security experts about the matter, and rightly pointed out that if you have physical access to a system, then you could run malware on a PC of any kind, whether it is powered by AMD or not. He has published an editorial on PCPer this morning that takes a look at what some are seeing as an attack on AMD yesterday, by CTS-Labs.

Considering the "risk" involved, it is surprising that CTS Labs went public with their finding just 24 hours after notifying AMD.

In the case of Spectre and Meltdown side-channel vulnerabilities, Google extended its disclosure for Intel, Arm, AMD and cloud platform to six months in order to give vendors time to develop and deploy fixes. CTS-Labs claims a bad actor could exploit this vulnerability to permanently install malware on to the chips.

The disclosure of the bugs comes a couple of months after flaws in Intel processors, known as Meltdown and Spectre, were made public.

All the vulnerabilities were revealed to the security firm Trail of Bits last week.

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To What End And For What Purpose?

There are a total of 13 vulnerabilities exposed by CTS Labs who has categorised them into four sections. It feels like a hit job on AMD, aimed at torpedoing its stock price.

AMD followed up its initial statement with a blog post confirming that the chip maker is investigating and analysing the CTS Labs findings. The company's website includes a disclaimer that states CTS may have "an economic interest" in the securities of the companies they are reporting on.

The disclosure process itself also raised questions. Luk-Zilberman and Li On said that was because the flaws are "practical" and "fit well in the different scenarios and stages of a cyber attack". Masterkey on the other hand, requires that "an attacker be able to re-flash the BIOS with a specially crafted BIOS update".

FALLOUT can also be used to place malware outside the reach of most endpoint security solutions-for example, in the System Management Mode (SMM) or the Windows Isolated User Mode and Isolated Kernel Mode (VTL1), the researchers said.

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However, according to the form itself, they sent out the proof-of-concept for the Spectre like exploits to not only AMD but to other major tech companies.

The CTS Labs paper plays up the vulnerabilities, with claims that they could survive OS reinstallations and pave the way for "virtually undetectable espionage". In fact, Luk-Zilberman and Li On told us that they have yet to hear from AMD despite all the attention their disclosure has garnered from enthusiasts and journalists. Now, we do not know if these two entities are connected, but Viceroy put up their findings very quickly if not at the same time as CTS-Labs released their findings. It's a somewhat curious screed in which he expounds on his distaste for the 90-day response window and his views on why it's not helpful.

In total, the security researcher claims that it has discovered 13 different critical vulnerabilities affecting 21 products, which the company successfully exploited using discovered vulnerabilities. This is a far cry from typical security research practice.

This model has a huge problem; how can you convince the public you are telling the truth without the technical details.

While the vulnerabilities all require administrator access before they can be exploited, making them significantly more hard for intruders to use, they are unsafe in that they allow complete access to the system, including secure processing areas normally off-limits to malware. Attackers can exploit Ryzenfall to insert malicious code to take complete control of the AMD Secure Processor line.

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Start-Up Warns Of AMD Chip Flaws In Unusual Publicity Campaign