How to bolster BIOS security to prevent BIOS attacks

BIOS attacks can be thwarted by implementing NIST guidelines for BIOS security.

How likely is it for an enterprise to face a BIOS attack? Is it worth going to all the trouble to secure them via the new NIST BIOS protection guidelines?

BIOS attacks have a long history, but they have been greatly eclipsed by more general malware and other attacks. The early PC BIOS attacks involved changing or removing the BIOS passwords to change the boot order on a PC. The attacker could then gain access to the computer by bypassing the installed operating system. These attacks required physical presence and many future attacks on BIOS will still require physical access. There are attacks that could be performed remotely on the BIOS that NIST is trying to prevent or minimize the impact of by releasing BIOS security guidelines. New attacks on the BIOS could be launched by circumventing the security of the operating system. Given the number of different BIOSes, attacks may need to be targeted at specific BIOSes, as mentioned in the NIST BIOS protection guidelines.

BIOS security efforts should be included in your general hardware driver and software update program. Enterprises should purchase hardware with BIOS developed using the NIST guidelines and then securely configure the BIOS. To securely configure the BIOs, you should set a password on the BIOS for making any changes and set the boot order to a specific setting required by the system such as only allowing a system to boot off of the internal hard drive. These settings, plus securely configuring the computer and installing signed BIOS updates as a part of your standard patch management cycle, should minimize future attacks on your BIOS and systems.

This was last published in November 2011

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