Feeds

Tool makes mincemeat of Windows passwords

This Firewire is out of control

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

A security researcher has released an easy-to-use tool that accesses locked Windows computers in seconds without entering a password.

The tool, which was released Tuesday by Adam Boileau, works by connecting a Linux machine to the Firewire port of the target PC and modifying the password protection that's stored in local memory.

The attack exploits a well-known weakness in Firewire that makes it easy for connected devices to read and write to the memory of the host machine. Similar hacks work on machines running OS X and Linux (see here).

Of course, the attack depends on having physical access to the targeted machine, and as most El Reg readers know, anyone who has physical control of the PC owns it. Then again, password protections have been a useful way to briefly secure a machine while a user runs to the bathroom. Until now. As Boileau's tool makes clear, such protections can be bypassed in a matter of seconds.

The other potential shortcoming to the attack is that it requires the targeted machine to have an IEEE 1394 port, better known as Firewire. This might present a problem for those trying to attack an older machine, but as Firewire ports have grown in popularity (seven out of eight laptops had one in an informal survey of Reg machines), the requirement is becoming less and less of an issue.

It's the second attack in as many weeks to siphon information that's stored in a computer's random access memory. Previously, researchers documented a novel way to access files that presumably were locked using disk encryption by accessing a "ghost image" of the key stored on a computer's memory chips.

Boileau first demonstrated the Windows shortcoming at a 2006 conference. But until now he has stopped short of publicly releasing the tool because "Microsoft was a little cagey about exactly whether Firewire memory access was a real security issue or not and we didn't want to cause any real trouble." according to this article.

Now that Boileau has refocused attention on the attack, Microsoft is sure to point out that it's made possible by features built into the IEEE 1394 specification. That's true, but we're not sure that's enough to get Microsoft off the hook for failing to fix a weakness that's been in the public domain for at least two years.

After all, how hard could it be disable Firewire connections while a PC is locked? ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Apple's new iPhone 6 vulnerable to last year's TouchID fingerprint hack
But unsophisticated thieves need not attempt this trick
SMASH the Bash bug! Apple and Red Hat scramble for patch batches
'Applying multiple security updates is extremely difficult'
Oracle SHELLSHOCKER - data titan lists unpatchables
Database kingpin lists 32 products that can't be patched (yet) as GNU fixes second vuln
Who.is does the Harlem Shake
Blame it on LOLing XSS terroristas
Researchers tell black hats: 'YOU'RE SOOO PREDICTABLE'
Want to register that domain? We're way ahead of you.
Stunned by Shellshock Bash bug? Patch all you can – or be punished
UK data watchdog rolls up its sleeves, polishes truncheon
Ello? ello? ello?: Facebook challenger in DDoS KNOCKOUT
Gets back up again after half an hour though
Desperate VXers enslave FREEZERS in DDoS bot
Updated Spike malware targets Asia
Heatmiser digital thermostat users: For pity's sake, DON'T SWITCH ON the WI-FI
A stranger turns up YOUR heat with default password 1234
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.