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Cryptoboffin: Secure boot a boon for spooks' spyware

State-sponsored trojans will be harder to get rid of

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A leading computer scientist has warned that the latest so-called Trusted Computing proposals may restrict the market for anti-virus and security software.

Cambridge University Professor Ross Anderson warns that the secure boot features in the UEFI firmware specification - understood to be required on certified Windows 8 machines - might even make it easier to smuggle state-sponsored trojans onto victims' machines.

The secure boot system is designed to stop malware from being introduced into a computer's boot sequence - but without the secret cryptographic keys, the firmware will also block non-harmful code, such as non-Windows OSes and legit anti-virus software.

"Building signed boot into UEFI will extend Microsoft’s power over the markets for AV software and other security tools that install around boot time; while ‘Metro’ style apps (ie, web, tablet and HTML5-style stuff) could be limited to distribution via the MS app store. Even if users can opt out, most of them won’t.

"That’s a lot of firms suddenly finding Steve Ballmer’s boot on their jugular."

Anderson - who previously criticised UEFI (the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) for making it "impossible" to run “unauthorised” operating systems such as Linux and FreeBSD on Windows 8 PCs - argued that the technology could make life easier for intelligence agencies at the expense of ordinary users.

"If the Turkish government compelled Microsoft to include the Tubitak key in Windows so their intelligence services could do man-in-the-middle attacks on Kurdish MPs’ Gmail, then I expect they’ll also tell Microsoft to issue them a UEFI key to authenticate their keylogger malware," Anderson writes.

"Hey, I removed the Tubitak key from my browser, but how do I identify and block all foreign governments’ UEFI keys?"

The cryptoguru added: "Our Greek colleagues are already a bit cheesed off with Wall Street. How happy will they be if in future they won’t be able to install the security software of their choice on their PCs, but the Turkish secret police will?"

Anderson's latest criticism of UEFI on the Light Blue Touchpaper blog is here. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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