Millions computers running Computrace agent can be remotely hijacked

Pierluigi Paganini February 13, 2014

Experts at Kaspersky confirm hidden threat in BIOSes of Popular Laptops and warns that Absolute Computrace Anti-Theft agent can be remotely hijacked

Researchers at Kaspersky Lab have demonstrated that a feature in the legitimate software produced by Absolute Software firm can be abused to turn a defensive utility into a powerful utility for cyberattack.

Kaspersky Lab’s security experts published a report to demonstrate how a weak implementation of anti-theft software can cause serious security problems giving the attackers full access to millions of users’ PCs.

The experts discovered that the legitimate Computrace agent running on several private computers of Kaspersky Lab’s researchers without prior authorization, it is an agent that resides in the firmware, or PC ROM BIOS.

Many users reported to have found the legitimate agent already installed on their machines and the bad news is that Computrace is designed to survive professional system cleanup and even hard disk replacement.

Kaspersky team estimated that approximately 150,000 systems are running the Computrace agent and total number of users with the activated Computrace agent may exceed 2 million, the majority of such computers are located in the US and Russia.

Computrace computers

Computrace implements persistence using many tricks usually adopted by malicious software, including anti-debugging and anti-reverse engineering techniques, injection into memory of other processes, establishment of secret communications, patching system files on disk, keeping configuration files encrypted, and dropping a Windows executable right from the BIOS/firmware.

“Powerful actors with the ability to tap fiber optics can potentially hijack computers running Absolute Computrace. This software can be used to deploy spyware implants,” “Our estimate is that millions of computers are running Absolute Computrace software and a large number of the users might be unaware that this software is activated and running. Who had a reason to activate Computrace on all those computers? Are they being monitored by an unknown actor? That is a mystery which needs to be solved.” warns Vitaly Kamluk, Principal Security Researcher, Global Research and Analysis team at Kaspersky Lab. 

Despite there isn’t proof that Absolute Computrace is being used as a platform for attacks,  an hacker could exploit basic features for remote code execution in the network protocol implemented by Computrace Small Agent. The features lack of authentication and communication with the remote server is not protected with encryption.

The anomalous behavior of Computrace Agent is known by security experts for a long time, in 2009 researchers from Core Security Technologies produced a similar study on the debated agent.

Even some reports in the past revealed that Computrace was detected by Microsoft as a malware (VirTool:Win32/BeeInject).

“Such a powerful tool as Absolute Computrace software must use authentication and encryption mechanisms to continue serving the greater good. It’s clear that if there are a lot of computers with Computrace agents running, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer (in this case Absolute Software) to notify users and explain how the software can be deactivated and disabled,” “Otherwise, these orphaned agents will keep on running unnoticed and provide a possibility for remote exploitation.” is reported in   the post from Kaspersky. 

FAQ on Absolute Computrace case – Security Vulnerability Claims

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  Kaspersky, Computrace)

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