[NEWS] Firewire/IEEE 1394 Considered Harmful to Physical Security

From: SecuriTeam (support_at_securiteam.com)
Date: 11/01/04

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    Date: 1 Nov 2004 19:08:33 +0200

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      Firewire/IEEE 1394 Considered Harmful to Physical Security


    IEEE1394 Specification allows client devices to directly access host
    memory, bypassing operating system limitations. A malicious client device
    can read and modify sensitive memory, causing privilege escalation,
    information leakage and system compromise. Any system with sensitive
    information or in an unsecured physical location, esp. public access
    systems, should re-evaluate their system security and consider additional
    physical security measures if they are equipped with "firewire" ports.
    These ports are sometimes also called "iLink" on some Sony models.


    In the presentation, "Owned by an iPod" which Maximilian Dornseif, from
    Laboratory for Dependable Distributed Systems at RWTH Aachen University,
    will be giving at the PacSec.jp/core04 conference in Tokyo on Nov 11/12,
    several new techniques involving the IEEE 1394 interface commonly found on
    laptops, desktops, and some servers will be demonstrated.

    These techniques could be used in both malicious and beneficial
    applications. The beneficial applications are in the areas of system
    forensics and external debugging. The malicious applications are that
    anyone with physical access to the firewire port could tamper with system
    operation and compromise security without measures such as power cycling
    or rebooting.

    Systems that counted on physical access limitation such as blocking access
    to reset and power switches and other measures to limit compromise though
    such procedures as rebooting, need to re-examine their security.

    As usual, physical access to a computer usually implies the ability for
    compromise - however, with this new technique, merely plugging in a
    malicious Firewire/1394 client device with special software could be
    enough to tamper with a target. It becomes easier to violate security if
    the combination of physical access and 1394 interfaces is available.

    Security policies and procedures should be re-evaluated and consider this
    new information where needed.

    On some systems that require untrusted/unauthenticated physical access by
    strangers and still require restricted operations, removal of wire headers
    connecting external case firewire jacks may provide some limited

    On laptops epoxy may be used to permanently disable the external jack if
    such loss of functionality can be tolerated.

    The primary precaution is that employees should be warned that they should
    not plug unknown/untrusted firewire devices into computers containing
    sensitive information.

    As this capability is built into the specification and chipsets at the
    hardware level, software fixes are still under investigation and
    will be discussed at the presentation.

    Systems Affected:
    Any operating system and any processor platform with IEEE 1394 interfaces.
    In some cases even if the operating system in question does not support
    the interface, compromise may still be possible if the hardware is


    The information has been provided by <mailto:dr@kyx.net> Dragos Ruiu.


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