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Revealed: A New Vulnerability in Intel Chips that Hackers can Use to Access a PC

A new vulnerability exists in all the new generation of Intel processors that smart hackers can access and surreptitiously take control of any Intel-based PC; it has been revealed.

A New Vulnerability in Intel Chips that Hackers can Use to Access a PC
Credit: Chris Potter / Flickr

According to a presentation by Mark Ermolov and Maxim Goryachy, made at the 33rd Chaos Communication Conference  in Germany, it has been revealed that what Intel intended to be an application that could help developers and researchers to test the performance of computers is a vulnerability that hackers can easily take advantage of using a standard USB connectivity port.

The modern Intel processors contain a feature called the Direct Connect Interface (DCI) that developers, researchers and other experts can use to analyse the performance of a PC. The DCI was meant to be a revolutionary development that could help researchers to test the performance of a PC without having to break into the device as it was the case before.

The vulnerability of the DCI lies in its relationship with the debugging interface that was first developed by the Joint Test Action Group, hence the name, JTAG, the researchers note.

The JTAG was a new interface that developers and researchers could use to carry out basic debugging processes on a device. Researchers could access the JTAG by using its dedicated pins that are connected to the motherboard of the device. The pins, which are technically known as ITP-XDP, allow researchers to access the motherboard using a special device that they can then use to test the performance of different drivers and other software programs.

However, it is noted that it is now possible to access the JTAG via a USB connectivity port and not necessarily using the old-fashioned method, the researchers note.

‘debug transport technology makes it possible for one to access the JTAG by connecting a hardware probe to the target device, thus disabling the USB 3.0 port and activating the Intel’s protocol,’ the researchers noted in their presentation.

It, therefore, appears that researchers can now carry out complex testing tasks at relatively high speeds using this method rather than having to break into a PC. Interestingly, hackers can use this procedure to access a computer and gain absolute control over it; it has been reported.

The researchers demonstrated how hackers could exploit the vulnerability by using a device having a Fluxxabit hardware implant running a unique malware program called Godsurge. From the presentation, it appears that hackers can carry out this procedure relatively easily, as long as they can gain physical access to a target computer.

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