Intel Adds Ransomware Detection to its Hardware

Posted on by Dawna M. Roberts in News February 10, 2021

 The bad guys keep getting better and better at what they do, and now the good guys are following suit. Intel has partnered with Cybereason to build anti-ransomware security into their 11th generation Core vPro Business Class processors.

Intel is the largest producer of microprocessing chips for computers in the world. Founded in 1968, they now rule the world of semiconductor chips as well as other things.

The Good News

The Hacker News reported this week that “the hardware-based security enhancements are baked into Intel’s vPro platform via its Hardware Shield and Threat Detection Technology (TDT), enabling profiling and detection of ransomware and other threats that have an impact on the CPU performance.”

“The joint solution represents the first instance where PC hardware plays a direct role in ransomware defenses to better protect enterprise endpoints from costly attacks,” Cybereason said.”

The Technical Details

The new line of processors includes Intel Hardware Shield that protects the firmware against BIOS attacks. The new feature locks down memory when it detects malware and prevents it from running and entering the operating system (OS).

Another feature TDT is explained by The Hacker News as “Intel TDT, on the other hand, leverages a combination of CPU telemetry data and machine learning-based heuristics to identify anomalous attack behavior — including polymorphic malware, file-less scripts, crypto mining, and ransomware infections — in real-time.”

“The Intel [CPU performance monitoring unit] sits beneath applications, the OS, and virtualization layers on the system and delivers a more accurate representation of active threats, system-wide,” Intel  said. “As threats are detected in real-time, Intel TDT sends a high-fidelity signal that can trigger remediation workflows in the security vendor’s code.”

The Need for Change

With the COVID-19 pandemic came a flurry of hacker and ransomware activity, more than ever before. The spike in cybercrime dictated the need for change, and Intel heard the call.

Ransomware is one of the most prevalent forms of attack these days, with a new twist, “double extortion.” Threat actors not only encrypt the victims’ servers and hold the data ransom, but they also exfiltrate it and sell it on the dark web exposing the company, customers, and vendors. The threat of exposure often results in a payout, sometimes not.

Threat researchers have noticed that many hackers are targeting the BIOS and firmware of servers and computers, thus bypassing the security features built into the OS. Intel’s new line of chips designed to reverse this trend.

The Hacker News explains, “Last month, researchers detailed a new “TrickBoot” feature in TrickBot that can allow attackers to inject malicious code in the UEFI/BIOS firmware of a device to achieve persistence, avoid detection and carry out destructive or espionage-focused campaigns.”

A New Trend to Follow?

There is no doubt that hardware manufacturers like Intel need to step up their game because hackers aren’t letting up anytime soon, and they are constantly evolving their tactics and skills. Firewalls and anti-virus software aren’t cutting it these days. The need for protection from the ground up is evident.

Intel and Cybereason said, “Cybereason’s multi-layered protection, in collaboration with Intel Threat Detection Technology, will enable full-stack visibility to swiftly detect and block ransomware attacks before the data can be encrypted or exfiltrated.”

Companies like Microsoft and Apple are building new protections and security into their operating systems with every new update, but the weak link is still hardware. Apple has a unique marriage between their hardware and software (OS), and therefore, we will most likely see them implement similar BIOS and ground-level protections soon as well.

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