Cybersecurity Researchers Spotted First-Ever UEFI Rootkit in the Wild
Rootkit is a clandestine computer program designed to provide continued privileged access to a computer while actively hiding its presence. The term rootkit is a connection of the two words “root” and “kit.” Originally, a rootkit was a collection of tools that enabled administrator-level access to a computer or network.
Cybersecurity researchers at ESET have unveiled what they claim to be the first-ever UEFI rootkit being used in the wild, allowing hackers to implant persistent malware on the targeted computers that could survive a complete hard-drive wipe.
Dubbed LoJax, the UEFI rootkit is part of a malware campaign conducted by the infamous Sednit group, also known as APT28, Fancy Bear, Strontium, and Sofacy, to target several government organizations in the Balkans as well as in Central and Eastern Europe.
Operating since at least 2007, Sednit group is a state-sponsored hacking group believed to be a unit of GRU (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate), a Russian secret military intelligence agency. The hacking group has been associated with a number of high profile attacks, including the DNC hack just before the U.S. 2016 presidential election.
UEFI, or Unified Extensible Firmware Interface, a replacement for the traditional BIOS, is a core and critical firmware component of a computer, which links a computer’s hardware and operating system at startup and is typically not accessible to users.
How Does LoJax UEFI Rootkit Work?
According to the ESET researchers, the LoJax malware has the ability to write a malicious UEFI module into the system’s SPI flash memory, allowing BIOS firmware to install and execute malware deep inside the computer disk during the boot process.
Since LoJax rootkit resides in the compromised UEFI firmware and re-infects the system before the OS even boots, reinstalling the operating system, formatting the hard disk, or even replacing the hard drive with a new one would not be sufficient to clean the infection.
Flashing the compromised firmware with legitimate software is the only way to remove such rootkit malware, which typically is not a simple task for most computer users.
First spotted in early 2017, LoJax is a trojaned version of a popular legitimate LoJack laptop anti-theft software from Absolute Software, which installs its agent into the system’s BIOS to survive OS re-installation or drive replacement and notifies device owner of its location in case the laptop gets stolen.
However, according to ESET, the LoJax rootkit installation uncovered by its researchers is the first ever recorded case of a UEFI rootkit active in the wild.
How to Protect Your Computer From Rootkits
As ESET researchers said, there are no easy ways to automatically remove this threat from a system.
Since UEFI rootkit is not properly signed, users can protect themselves against LoJax infection by enabling the Secure Boot mechanism, which makes sure that each and every component loaded by the system firmware is properly signed with a valid certificate.
If you are already infected with such malware, the only way to remove the rootkit is to reflash the SPI flash memory with a clean firmware image specific to the motherboard, which is a very delicate process that must be performed manually and carefully.
Alternative to reflashing the UEFI/BIOS, you can replace the motherboard of the compromised system outright.
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