Feeds

NSA alleges 'BIOS plot to destroy PCs'

Un-named PC maker sought help to defeat un-named nation's PC-bricking plan

Reducing security risks from open source software

Senior National Security Agency (NSA) officials have told US news magazine program “60 Minutes” that a foreign nation tried to infect computers with a BIOS-based virus that would have enabled them to be remotely destroyed.

NSA Director General Keith Alexander and Information Assurance Director Debora Plunkett both appeared on the program in an attempt to defend the many unsettling domestic espionage programs revealed by Edward Snowden.

During the interview, the transcript of which can be found here, the pair made the following allegations:

  • A foreign country developed BIOS malware “disguised as a request for a software update” that would have turned PCs into “a brick.” Plunkett said “The NSA working with computer manufacturers was able to close this vulnerability”. 60 Minutes names China as the culprit
  • The NSA is listening to “Less than 60 people globally who are considered U.S. Persons,” according to Alexander
  • The NSA prefers to look at metadata rather than intercept communications, as the former is felt to be the “least intrusive” way of snooping
  • Before 9/11 the USA lacked the capability to match metadata from multiple carriers that would allow understanding of conversations between two parties and it is felt the lack of such an ability helped the 9/11 plotters to evade detection

The segment appears to have been far from a terrifying experience for the interviewees: the tone is that the NSA is a misunderstood entity doing its best to defend the USA against terrorism and worse. It therefore includes lots of soft stuff about the super-clever folks who work at the NSA and the cryptographic feats performed by its interns. There's also a quick primer on social engineering and how the bad guys use it to get the good guys clicking on bad things.

How much weight to give to “revelations” like the BIOS attack is therefore hard to assess. One thing seems certain: the NSA has decided it needs to play harder in the battle for hearts and minds in the USA and beyond. 60 Minutes seems to have decided to play along. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Microsoft: You NEED bad passwords and should re-use them a lot
Dirty QWERTY a perfect P@ssword1 for garbage websites
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
NUDE SNAPS AGENCY: NSA bods love 'showing off your saucy selfies'
Swapping other people's sexts is a fringe benefit, says Snowden
Own a Cisco modem or wireless gateway? It might be owned by someone else, too
Remote code exec in HTTP server hands kit to bad guys
British data cops: We need greater powers and more money
You want data butt kicking, we need bigger boots - ICO
Crooks fling banking Trojan at Japanese smut site fans
Wait - they're doing online banking with an unpatched Windows PC?
NIST told to grow a pair and kick NSA to the curb
Lrn2crypto, oversight panel tells US govt's algorithm bods
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Mobile application security vulnerability report
The alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, and the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.