Security

Razer – perfectly happy to sell you a laptop for over $2,000, but when it comes to fixing security holes... tough sh*t

Slack motherboard firmware controls leave machines open to deep-rooted malware

By Shaun Nichols in San Francisco

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Updated Gaming PC specialist Razer has been singled out for leaving its motherboards vulnerable to a well-known and critical firmware vulnerability.

Infosec bod Bailey Fox said Razer's Intel notebook models are still vulnerable to CVE-2018-4251, a security screw-up that potentially allows malware with administrative rights to alter the system's firmware, thus allowing it to burrow deep into the PC and survive reboots and hard drive wipes. The issue has been known about since last year, and has been patched by manufacturers, but not by Razer, it seems.

"Razer has a vulnerability affecting all current laptops, where the SPI flash is set to full read/write and the Intel CPU is left in ME Manufacturing Mode," Fox explained late last month.

"This allows for attackers to safeguard rootkits with Intel Boot Guard, downgrade the BIOS to exploit older vulnerabilities such as Meltdown, and many other things."

The CVE-2018-4251 weakness was documented in public last June, after bug-hunters spotted that some Apple machines shipped with Intel's Management Engine (ME) manufacturing mode left enabled, rather than disabled. System builders are supposed to write their core firmware to the motherboard flash then disable manufacturing mode.

If you have a software nasty on your computer with admin rights, it's already a game-over situation: the code can spy on you, steal your data, and so on, and your next option is to delete the malware or wipe your storage and start from a clean backup. However, with the ability to write to and bury itself in your motherboard firmware via this left-open mode, the malware could ensure it survives a drive wipe or change, and evades detection from antivirus tools.

Such was the worry in October of last year when Apple moved to issue a security update to close the vulnerability in its gear.

If Fox is to be believed, and there is no reason to doubt the researcher, then Razer machines would be left open to similar types of attack. What's worse, Fox claims to have been in contact with Razer, only to have the company decline to acknowledge and put out a fix for the issue.

The Register asked Razer for its side of the story, but at the time of publication we have yet to hear back from the gaming hardware giant.

In the meantime, gamers should be wary of attacks, but there is no reason to panic.

As we already stated, exploiting this bug would require the aggressor to have local admin-level access to the machine, and if a miscreant is running privileged code on your PC, there are about a thousand other things you'll want to worry about before considering the integrity of your mobo firmware. ®

Updated to add

"Razer has been alerted to certain Intel Management Engine vulnerabilities in the Intel chipsets of several Razer laptop models," the laptop maker told The Regiser.

"To address this issue, Razer laptops will ship from the factory with an update to remove these vulnerabilities. For currently shipped products, Razer has provided a software tool to apply this update."

It confirmed the affected Razer laptop models are the Blade 15 (Advanced model - 2018, 2019, Base model - 2018), and Blade Stealth 13 (2019). We're told the Razer Blade Stealth (2017) is also affected.

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