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By | Dan Goodin 24th March 2009 22:17

Newfangled rootkits survive hard disk wiping

BIOS attack targets PC nether region

Researchers have demonstrated how to create rootkits that survive hard-disk reformatting by injecting malware into the low-level system instructions of a target computer.

The researchers, from Core Security Technologies, used the techniques to inject rootkits into two computers, one running the OpenBSD operating system and the other Windows. Because the infection lives in the computer's BIOS, or basic input/output system, it persists even after the operating system is reinstalled or a computer's hard drive is replaced.

While researchers have focused on BIOS-based rootkits for at least three years, earlier techniques generally attacked specific types of BIOSes, such as those that used ACPI, or Advanced Configuration and Power Interface. The techniques demonstrated by the Core researchers work on virtually all types of systems, they said.

Of course, injecting code into the BIOS is no easy feat. It requires physical access to the machine or an exploit that hands an attacker unfettered root access. But the research, presented at last week's CanSecWest security conference by Anibal L. Sacco and Alfredo A. Ortega, does demonstrate that infections will only become harder to spot and remove over time. ®

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