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Unpatchable Windows Flaw Enables Stealthy UEFI Malware to Bypass Secure Boot

March 7, 2023
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Ever since its inception over a decade ago, Secure Boot has been a leading tool for shielding computers from malicious attack. The UEFI Secure Boot protocol is an industry-wide standard that deploys cryptographic signatures to ensure that each piece of software utilized during startup is trusted by the device’s manufacturer, in order to create a chain of trust, preventing any attackers from being able to replace the intended boot up firmware.

Yet, despite the immense importance and prevalence of this technology, recent research has unearthed an incredibly concerning find – the world’s first-known instance of real-world malware that can fatally compromise Secure Boot capabilities. Known as BlackLotus, this advanced piece of malicious code is believed to be responsible for a sharp uptick in compromised computers, particularly in North America and Western Europe.

In order to be successfully installed, BlackLotus requires attackers to hack into a device and gain administrator system rights, whether through exploiting various weaknesses within the Operating System or via tricking users into downloading trojanized software. It is then that the malware can hijack the UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) booting process, by taking advantage of a critical vulnerabilty in all supported versions of Windows (CVE-2022-21894) which was patched back in January 2022.

It’s difficult to overlook the horrific implications of a vulnerability of this magnitude, as it allows threat actors a powerful way of ensuring their malicious software remains active after reinstalling the Operating System or even replacing the hard drive.

Not just that, but it grants hackers unquestioned control over the OS security mechanisms, allowing them to launch malware in the kernel or user mode that have kernel-level access. This has resulted in researchers dubbing this malware as a UEFI bootkit – one of the most powerful and dangerous tools in a hacker’s arsenal.

Shockingly, its creators are even charging an estimated fee of $5,000 USD upfront, with a further $200 USD per update, creating an unfortunately substantial potential reward for their illegal activities.

At present it remains uncertain how exactly the BlackLotus UEFI bootkit is to be stopped. It’s identified flaws have yet to be added to the UEFI revocation list, and with hundreds of vulnerable bootloaders still being used today, a mass replacement or update could potentially render millions of devices unable to function.

To make matters worse, any possible counterattack or initiative that would eradicate such threats from existence may never see the light of the day, simply due to the hidden nature of the operations and the lack of accountability thereof.

Overall, this situation is extremely worrying, with potentially catastrophic ramifications for unsuspecting users who may not know the difference between a clean boot up, and one that has been corrupted by a UEFI bootkit. Researchers strongly suggest that all users update their computers to the most recent version of Windows to minimize any potential risk, but as of yet, there is no foolproof way of protecting yourself against the attacks of malicious actors.

We implore all users to take extra caution when browsing the Internet and downloading software, as it only takes one moment’s mistake to bring your computer under the jurisdiction of such potentially dangerous software. What’s more, if you are ever in doubt, never hesitate to reach out to a qualified cybersecurity expert to ensure that your computer is kept safe.

Staying vigilant and persistently aware of the lingering threat of malicious software like the BlackLotus UEFI bootkit is essential for a secure and enjoyable user experience, no matter what device type or operating system you use. Comment below with any questions or tips you have on protecting your computer from such threats.

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