'Bricking' bug threatens most HP, Compaq laptops

'Bricking' bug threatens most HP, Compaq laptops
'Bricking' bug threatens most HP, Compaq laptops 

By Gregg Keizer
December 20, 2007 

The hacker who posted an exploit last week that threatened a large swath 
of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s laptop lineup followed up yesterday with new 
attack code that can "brick" nearly every HP laptop.

In a post to the Web site Wednesday, a Polish security 
researcher who used the alias "porkythepig" spelled out a pair of 
vulnerabilities in an ActiveX control used by HP's Software Update, the 
patch management program bundled with virtually every HP- and 
Compaq-branded laptop.

According to porkythepig's post, the Software Update bugs let an 
attacker corrupt Windows' kernel files, making the laptop unbootable, or 
with a little more effort, allow hacks that would result in a PC hijack 
or malware infection. In either case, a drive-by attack could be 
conducted by feeding users an e-mail message with a link to a malicious 
Web site.

"Every HP notebook machine containing the HP Software Updates 
application is vulnerable," claimed porkythepig. "It is possible that 
the vulnerable machine model list disclosed by the vendor as a 
confirmation to the previous issue concerning HP laptops, [the] HP Info 
Center case, will be similar in this case."

Last week, porkythepig disclosed multiple flaws in other software 
included with HP's portables. When the company patched the 
vulnerabilities a day later, it listed 83 affected laptops.

The scenario in which an attacker overwrites the kernel and thus 
"bricks" the HP or Compaq notebook, was out of the ordinary, since most 
hacks aim to snatch control of the machine or infect it with 
identity-stealing malware. But the crippling attack, said porkythepig, 
is actually the simpler of the two. "This attack vector doesn't require 
any additional victim social engineering, because the system files are 
always placed in the predictable locations," he said.

A drive-by attack that hopes to execute rogue code, however, requires 
more work. To successfully exploit the ActiveX bug in Software Update 
and compromise the computer, the hacker needs to know the location of 
certain files.

The researcher said he had tested the exploit code on Windows 2000, XP, 
Server 2003 and Vista, and that the vulnerabilities pose a risk to any 
user with either Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) or IE7 on the PC. Nor will HP 
be able to use the down-and-dirty fix it deployed last week, said 
porkythepig. After he revealed several bugs in HP's Info Center a week 
ago, HP issued an update that simply disabled the vulnerable software.

"Simple disabling of the vulnerable control by the vendor's patch, like 
in the other HP software vulnerability case, HP Info, [could still] 
result in the machine['s] software update system [being] compromised, 
and would leave the user vulnerable to future security issues," 
porkythepig said in the write-up.

HP did not reply to e-mailed requests for confirmation and comment.

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