security alert: modern cpus from intel and amd have an build-in backdoor

i just wonder when there will be an automatic self-destruction mechanism in your HARDWARE – „ah. You are an activist dedicated to truth. but we do not like what you blog – we collect as much info as we can about you – then erase your bankaccount (transfer all your money to us) then shredder your harddisk and blow up your CPU with the push of a button – hopefully you have food supplies.“

Published on Dec 28, 2014

AMD x86 SMU firmware analysis
Do you care about Matroshka processors?

You definitely should care. The aim of this talk is to provide insight to the security, architecture and yes you guessed it, vulnerability of the AMD System Management Unit (SMU) firmware found in modern AMD x86 processors.

Every modern x86 platform contains several other auxiliary processors, which kind of erase the line between pure hardware and software.

How well are those processors secured?

What is running on them?

Is there a way to analyze them?

Great attention had the Intel ME engine, but similar, although not so unfriendly processor(s) exists on the AMD platforms too.

The aim of this talk is to provide insight to the security, architecture and vulnerability of the AMD SMU firmware found in modern AMD x86 processors.

The SMU is designed to prevent unauthorized code execution, thus making it ideal candidate to verify if it is so. This is where the fun starts.

The overall goal is to educate the audience enough that they may (and want to) start to tinker around various non-x86 firmwares found on x86 systems on their own.
➤Speaker: Rudolf Marek
➤EventID: 6103
➤Event: 31th Chaos Communication Congress [31c3] of the Chaos Computer Club [CCC]
➤Location: Congress Centrum Hamburg (CCH); Am Dammtor; Marseiller Straße; 20355 Hamburg; Germany
➤Language: english
➤Begin: Sat, 12/27/2014 21:45:00 +01:00
➤License: CC-by

Sandy Bridge is the codename for a microarchitecture developed by Intel beginning in 2005 for central processing units in computers to replace the Nehalem microarchitecture.

Intel demonstrated a Sandy Bridge processor in 2009, and released first products based on the architecture in January 2011 under the Core brand.[1][2]


Mooly Eden – CEO Intel Israel talks 3D gesture technology at an Intel Israel event Photo credit Courtesy

Developed primarily by the Israeli branch of Intel, the codename was originally „Gesher“ (meaning „bridge“ in Hebrew).[3]


„Skylake’s development, as with processors such as Banias, Dothan, Conroe, Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge, was primarily undertaken by Intel Israel [12] at its engineering research center in Haifa, Israel.“

„The new chips are expected to be included in products starting in September, and be included in 100 million devices on sale through the 2016 holiday season.“


Modern cpus from intel and amd have build-in co-processors, which run besides the operating system and the code is proprietary. So even if you are running gnu/linux, it can leak your private keys! For more details, read on: (and don´t forget to #share this post, thanks)

“ In 2011, the Israeli government offered Intel $290 million to expand in the country. As a condition, Intel would employ 1,500 more workers in Kiryat Gat and between 600–1000 workers in the north.[200]

„In March 2014, it was reported that Intel would embark upon a $6 billion plan to expand its activities in Israel. The plan calls for continued investment in existing and new Intel plants until 2030. As of 2014 Intel employs 10,000 workers at four development centers and two production plants in Israel.[202]“

Why is the latest Intel hardware unsupported in libreboot? #intel

It is extremely unlikely that any post-2008 Intel hardware will ever be supported in libreboot, due to severe security and freedom issues; so severe, that the libreboot project recommends avoiding all modern Intel hardware. If you have an Intel based system affected by the problems described below, then you should get rid of it as soon as possible. The main issues are as follows:

Intel Management Engine (ME) #intelme

Introduced in June 2006 in Intel’s 965 Express Chipset Family of (Graphics and) Memory Controller Hubs, or (G)MCHs, and the ICH8 I/O Controller Family, the Intel Management Engine (ME) is a separate computing environment physically located in the (G)MCH chip.

In Q3 2009, the first generation of Intel Core i3/i5/i7 (Nehalem) CPUs and the 5 Series Chipset family of Platform Controller Hubs, or PCHs, brought a more tightly integrated ME (now at version 6.0) inside the PCH chip, which itself replaced the ICH.

Thus, the ME is present on all Intel desktop, mobile (laptop), and server systems since mid 2006.

The ME consists of an ARC processor core (replaced with other processor cores in later generations of the ME), code and data caches, a timer, and a secure internal bus to which additional devices are connected, including a cryptography engine, internal ROM and RAM, memory controllers, and a direct memory access (DMA) engine to access the host operating system’s memory as well as to reserve a region of protected external memory to supplement the ME’s limited internal RAM.

The ME also has network access with its own MAC address through an Intel Gigabit Ethernet Controller.

Its boot program, stored on the internal ROM, loads a firmware “manifest” from the PC’s SPI flash chip.

This manifest is signed with a strong cryptographic key, which differs between versions of the ME firmware.

If the manifest isn’t signed by a specific Intel key, the boot ROM won’t load and execute the firmware and the ME processor core will be halted.

The ME firmware is compressed and consists of modules that are listed in the manifest along with secure cryptographic hashes of their contents.

One module is the operating system kernel, which is based on a proprietary real-time operating system (RTOS) kernel called “ThreadX”.

„ThreadX is generally used in real-time embedded systems, especially in deeply embedded systems. Developing embedded systems using ThreadX is usually done on a host machine running Linux or Microsoft Windows, using cross-compiling target software to run on various target processor architectures. Several ThreadX-aware development tools are available, such as Wind River Workbench, ARM RealView, Green Hills Software’s MULTI, Metrowerks CodeWarrior, IAR C-SPY, Lauterbach TRACE32, and visionCLICK.

Hewlett-Packard has licensed the use of ThreadX for all Inkjet, Laserjet and all-in-one devices recently[when?]. Earlier they were using LynxOS for multifunctional laserjet printers and still many printers use LynxOS. ThreadX is widely used in a variety of consumer electronics, medical devices, data networking applications, and SoC development.“

The developer, Express Logic, sells licenses and source code for ThreadX. Customers such as Intel are forbidden from disclosing or sublicensing the ThreadX source code. Another module is the Dynamic Application Loader (DAL), which consists of a Java virtual machine and set of preinstalled Java classes for cryptography, secure storage, etc. The DAL module can load and execute additional ME modules from the PC’s HDD or SSD. The ME firmware also includes a number of native application modules within its flash memory space, including Intel Active Management Technology (AMT), an implementation of a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), Intel Boot Guard, and audio and video DRM systems.

The Active Management Technology (AMT) application, part of the Intel “vPro” brand, is a Web server and application code that enables remote users to power on, power off, view information about, and otherwise manage the PC. It can be used remotely even while the PC is powered off (via Wake-on-Lan). Traffic is encrypted using SSL/TLS libraries, but recall that all of the major SSL/TLS implementations have had highly publicized vulnerabilities. The AMT application itself has known vulnerabilities, which have been exploited to develop rootkits and keyloggers and covertly gain encrypted access to the management features of a PC. Remember that the ME has full access to the PC’s RAM. This means that an attacker exploiting any of these vulnerabilities may gain access to everything on the PC as it runs: all open files, all running applications, all keys pressed, and more.

Intel Boot Guard is an ME application introduced in Q2 2013 with ME firmware version 9.0 on 4th Generation Intel Core i3/i5/i7 (Haswell) CPUs. It allows a PC OEM to generate an asymmetric cryptographic keypair, install the public key in the CPU, and prevent the CPU from executing boot firmware that isn’t signed with their private key. This means that coreboot and libreboot are impossible to port to such PCs, without the OEM’s private signing key. Note that systems assembled from separately purchased mainboard and CPU parts are unaffected, since the vendor of the mainboard (on which the boot firmware is stored) can’t possibly affect the public key stored on the CPU.

ME firmware versions 4.0 and later (Intel 4 Series and later chipsets) include an ME application for audio and video DRM called “Protected Audio Video Path” (PAVP). The ME receives from the host operating system an encrypted media stream and encrypted key, decrypts the key, and sends the encrypted media decrypted key to the GPU, which then decrypts the media. PAVP is also used by another ME application to draw an authentication PIN pad directly onto the screen. In this usage, the PAVP application directly controls the graphics that appear on the PC’s screen in a way that the host OS cannot detect. ME firmware version 7.0 on PCHs with 2nd Generation Intel Core i3/i5/i7 (Sandy Bridge) CPUs replaces PAVP with a similar DRM application called “Intel Insider”. Like the AMT application, these DRM applications, which in themselves are defective by design, demonstrate the omnipotent capabilities of the ME: this hardware and its proprietary firmware can access and control everything that is in RAM and even everything that is shown on the screen.

The Intel Management Engine with its proprietary firmware has complete access to and control over the PC: it can power on or shut down the PC, read all open files, examine all running applications, track all keys pressed and mouse movements, and even capture or display images on the screen. And it has a network interface that is demonstrably insecure, which can allow an attacker on the network to inject rootkits that completely compromise the PC and can report to the attacker all activities performed on the PC. It is a threat to freedom, security, and privacy that can’t be ignored.

Before version 6.0 (that is, on systems from 2008/2009 and earlier), the ME can be disabled by setting a couple of values in the SPI flash memory. The ME firmware can then be removed entirely from the flash memory space. libreboot does this on the Intel 4 Series systems that it supports, such as the Libreboot X200 and Libreboot T400. ME firmware versions 6.0 and later, which are found on all systems with an Intel Core i3/i5/i7 CPU and a PCH, include “ME Ingition” firmware that performs some hardware initialization and power management. If the ME’s boot ROM does not find in the SPI flash memory an ME firmware manifest with a valid Intel signature, the whole PC will shut down after 30 minutes.

Due to the signature verification, developing free replacement firmware for the ME is basically impossible. The only entity capable of replacing the ME firmware is Intel. As previously stated, the ME firmware includes proprietary code licensed from third parties, so Intel couldn’t release the source code even if they wanted to. And even if they developed completely new ME firmware without third-party proprietary code and released its source code, the ME’s boot ROM would reject any modified firmware that isn’t signed by Intel. Thus, the ME firmware is both hopelessly proprietary and “tivoized”.

In summary, the Intel Management Engine and its applications are a backdoor with total access to and control over the rest of the PC. The ME is a threat to freedom, security, and privacy, and the libreboot project strongly recommends avoiding it entirely. Since recent versions of it can’t be removed, this means avoiding all recent generations of Intel hardware.

More information about the Management Engine can be found on various Web sites, including, the smashthestack network, coreboot wiki, and Wikipedia. The book Platform Embedded Security Technology Revealed describes in great detail the ME’s hardware architecture and firmware application modules.

Firmware Support Package (FSP) #fsp

On all recent Intel systems, coreboot support has revolved around integrating a blob (for each system) called the FSP (firmware support package), which handles all of the hardware initialization, including memory and CPU initialization. Reverse engineering and replacing this blob is almost impossible, due to how complex it is. Even for the most skilled developer, it would take years to replace. Intel distributes this blob to firmware developers, without source.

Since the FSP is responsible for the early hardware initialization, that means it also handles SMM (System Management Mode). This is a special mode that operates below the operating system level. It’s possible that rootkits could be implemented there, which could perform a number of attacks on the user (the list is endless). Any Intel system that has the proprietary FSP blob cannot be trusted at all. In fact, several SMM rootkits have been demonstrated in the wild (use a search engine to find them).

CPU microcode updates #microcode

All modern x86 CPUs (from Intel and AMD) use what is called microcode. CPUs are extremely complex, and difficult to get right, so the circuitry is designed in a very generic way, where only basic instructions are handled in hardware. Most of the instruction set is implemented using microcode, which is low-level software running inside the CPU that can specify how the circuitry is to be used, for each instruction. The built-in microcode is part of the hardware, and read-only. Both the circuitry and the microcode can have bugs, which could cause reliability issues.

Microcode updates are proprietary blobs, uploaded to the CPU at boot time, which patches the built-in microcode and disables buggy parts of the CPU to improve reliability. In the past, these updates were handled by the operating system kernel, but on all recent systems it is the boot firmware that must perform this task. Coreboot does distribute microcode updates for Intel and AMD CPUs, but libreboot cannot, because the whole point of libreboot is to be 100% free software.

On some older Intel CPUs, it is possible to exclude the microcode updates and not have any reliability issues in practise. All current libreboot systems work without microcode updates (otherwise, they wouldn’t be supported in libreboot). However, all modern Intel CPUs require the microcode updates, otherwise the system will not boot at all, or it will be extremely unstable (memory corruption, for example).

Intel CPU microcode updates are signed, which means that you could not even run a modified version, even if you had the source code. If you try to upload your own modified updates, the CPU will reject them. In other words, the microcode updates are tivoized.

The microcode updates alter the way instructions behave on the CPU. That means they affect the way the CPU works, in a very fundamental way. That makes it software. The updates are proprietary, and are software, so we exclude them from libreboot. The microcode built into the CPU already is not so much of an issue, since we can’t change it anyway (it’s read-only).

Intel is uncooperative #intelbastards

For years, coreboot has been struggling against Intel. Intel has been shown to be extremely uncooperative in general. Many coreboot developers, and companies, have tried to get Intel to cooperate; namely, releasing source code for the firmware components. Even Google, which sells millions of chromebooks (coreboot preinstalled) have been unable to persuade them.

Even when Intel does cooperate, they still don’t provide source code. They might provide limited information (datasheets) under strict corporate NDA (non-disclosure agreement), but even that is not guaranteed. Even ODMs and IBVs can’t get source code from Intel, in most cases (they will just integrate the blobs that Intel provides).

Recent Intel graphics chipsets also require firmware blobs.

Intel is only going to get worse when it comes to user freedom. Libreboot has no support recent Intel platforms, precisely because of the problems described above. The only way to solve this is to get Intel to change their policies and to be more friendly to the free software community. Reverse engineering won’t solve anything long-term, unfortunately, but we need to keep doing it anyway. Moving forward, Intel hardware is a non-option unless a radical change happens within Intel.

Basically, all Intel hardware from year 2010 and beyond will never be supported by libreboot. The libreboot project is actively ignoring all modern Intel hardware at this point, and focusing on alternative platforms.

Why is the latest AMD hardware unsupported in libreboot? #amd

It is extremely unlikely that any post-2013 AMD hardware will ever be supported in libreboot, due to severe security and freedom issues; so severe, that the libreboot project recommends avoiding all modern AMD hardware. If you have an AMD based system affected by the problems described below, then you should get rid of it as soon as possible. The main issues are as follows:

AMD Platform Security Processor (PSP) #amdpsp

This is basically AMD’s own version of the Intel Management Engine. It has all of the same basic security and freedom issues, although the implementation is wildly different.

The Platform Security Processor (PSP) is built in on all Family 16h + systems (basically anything post-2013), and controls the main x86 core startup. PSP firmware is cryptographically signed with a strong key similar to the Intel ME. If the PSP firmware is not present, or if the AMD signing key is not present, the x86 cores will not be released from reset, rendering the system inoperable.

The PSP is an ARM core with TrustZone technology, built onto the main CPU die. As such, it has the ability to hide its own program code, scratch RAM, and any data it may have taken and stored from the lesser-privileged x86 system RAM (kernel encryption keys, login data, browsing history, keystrokes, who knows!). To make matters worse, the PSP theoretically has access to the entire system memory space (AMD either will not or cannot deny this, and it would seem to be required to allow the DRM “features” to work as intended), which means that it has at minimum MMIO-based access to the network controllers and any other PCI/PCIe peripherals installed on the system.

In theory any malicious entity with access to the AMD signing key would be able to install persistent malware that could not be eradicated without an external flasher and a known good PSP image. Furthermore, multiple security vulnerabilities have been demonstrated in AMD firmware in the past, and there is every reason to assume one or more zero day vulnerabilities are lurking in the PSP firmware. Given the extreme privilege level (ring -2 or ring -3) of the PSP, said vulnerabilities would have the ability to remotely monitor and control any PSP enabled machine. completely outside of the user’s knowledge.

Much like with the Intel Boot Guard (an application of the Intel Management Engine), AMD’s PSP can also act as a tyrant by checking signatures on any boot firmware that you flash, making replacement boot firmware (e.g. libreboot, coreboot) impossible on some boards. Early anecdotal reports indicate that AMD’s boot guard counterpart will be used on most OEM hardware, disabled only on so-called “enthusiast” CPUs.

AMD IMC firmware #amdimc


AMD SMU firmware #amdsmu

Handles some power management for PCIe devices (without this, your laptop will not work properly) and several other power management related features.

The firmware is signed, although on older AMD hardware it is a symmetric key, which means that with access to the key (if leaked) you could sign your own modified version and run it. Rudolf Marek (coreboot hacker) found out how to extract this key in this video demonstration, and based on this work, Damien Zammit (another coreboot hacker) partially replaced it with free firmware, but on the relevant system (ASUS F2A85-M) there were still other blobs present (Video BIOS, and others) preventing the hardware from being supported in libreboot.

AMD AGESA firmware #amdagesa

This is responsible for virtually all core hardware initialization on modern AMD systems. In 2011, AMD started cooperating with the coreboot project, releasing this as source code under a free license. In 2014, they stopped releasing source code and started releasing AGESA as binary blobs instead. This makes AGESA now equivalent to Intel FSP.

AMD CPU microcode updates #amdmicrocode

Read the Intel section #microcode. AMD’s updates are practically the same, though it was found with much later hardware in AMD that you could run without microcode updates. It’s unknown whether the updates are needed on all AMD boards (depends on CPU).

AMD is incompetent (and uncooperative) #amdbastards

AMD seemed like it was on the right track in 2011 when it started cooperating with and releasing source code for several critical components to the coreboot project. It was not to be. For so-called economic reasons, they decided that it was not worth the time to invest in the coreboot project anymore.

For a company to go from being so good, to so bad, in just 3 years, shows that something is seriously wrong with AMD. Like Intel, they do not deserve your money.

Given the current state of Intel hardware with the Management Engine, it is our opinion that all performant x86 hardware newer than the AMD Family 15h CPUs (on AMD’s side) or anything post-2009 on Intel’s side is defective by design and cannot safely be used to store, transmit, or process sensitive data. Sensitive data is any data in which a data breach would cause significant economic harm to the entity which created or was responsible for storing said data, so this would include banks, credit card companies, or retailers (customer account records), in addition to the “usual” engineering and software development firms. This also affects whistleblowers, or anyone who needs actual privacy and security.


#security #alert #backdoor #surveillance #pleaseshare #sharingiscaring
#managementengine #me #activemanagementtechnology #amt
#government #nsa #gchq #bnd #intelligenceagencies #nationalintelligence
#coreboot #libreboot #fsf #blob #proprietary #freesoftware #freehardware

The Israel Technology Transfer Organization (ITTN) serves as the umbrella organization for Israel’s technology transfer companies. There are currently 12 members at ITTN all of which are affiliated with the country’s universities and research institutions. In 2012 ITTN conducted the first annual conference which includes speakers such as; Prof. Manuel Trachtenberg, Dotan Peleg, Dr. Yona Geffen, Mooly Eden, President of Intel Israel, Avi Hasson – Israel’s Chief Scientist, Vicki Lewise, CEO AUTM, Yossi Smoler, Prof. Odede Shoseyov, David Zigdon, Prof. Ada Yonath and Dr. Hadar Wismunsky.

Yaacov Michlin (Yissum’s CEO) and Amir Naiberg (Yeda’s CEO) are the group’s board co-chairmen. Tamir Huberman is the Director of IT.

Partnering organizations

Management team

  • Yaacov Michlin – Co-Chairman
  • Amir Naiberg – Co-Chairman
  • Tamir Huberman – Director of IT

External links