vPro processors allow remote access even when computer is turned off
Intel Core vPro processors contain a “secret” 3G chip that allows remote disabling and backdoor access to any computer even when it is turned off.
Although the technology has actually been around for a while, the attendant privacy concerns are only just being aired. The “secret” 3G chip that Intel added to its processors in 2011 caused little consternation until the NSA spying issue exploded earlier this year as a result of Edward Snowden’s revelations.
In a promotional video for the technology, Intel brags that the chips actually offer enhanced security because they don’t require computers to be “powered on” and allow problems to be fixed remotely. The promo also highlights the ability for an administrator to shut down PCs remotely “even if the PC is not connected to the network,” as well as the ability to bypass hard drive encryption.
“Intel actually embedded the 3G radio chip in order to enable its Anti Theft 3.0 technology. And since that technology is found on every Core i3/i5/i7 CPU after Sandy Bridge, that means a lot of CPUs, not just new vPro, might have a secret 3G connection nobody knew about until now,” reports Softpedia.
Jeff Marek, director of business client engineering for Intel, acknowledged that the company’s Sandy Bridge” microprocessor, which was released in 2011, had “the ability to remotely kill and restore a lost or stolen PC via 3G.”
“Core vPro processors contain a second physical processor embedded within the main processor which has it’s own operating system embedded on the chip itself,” writes Jim Stone. “As long as the power supply is available and in working condition, it can be woken up by the Core vPro processor, which runs on the system’s phantom power and is able to quietly turn individual hardware components on and access anything on them.”
Although the technology is being promoted as a convenient way for IT experts to troubleshoot PC issues remotely, it also allows hackers or NSA snoops to view the entire contents of somebody’s hard drive, even when the power is off and the computer is not connected to a wi-fi network.
It also allows third parties to remotely disable any computer via the “secret” 3G chip that is built into Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors. Webcams could also be remotely accessed.
“This combination of hardware from Intel enables vPro access ports which operate independently of normal user operations,” reports TG Daily
. “These include out-of-band communications (communications that exist outside of the scope of anything the machine might be doing through an OS or hypervisor), monitoring and altering of incoming and outgoing network traffic. In short, it operates covertly and snoops and potentially manipulates data.”
Not only does this represent a privacy nightmare, it also dramatically increases the risk of industrial espionage.
The ability for third parties to have remote 3G access to PCs would also allow unwanted content to be placed on somebody’s hard drive, making it easier for intelligence agencies and corrupt law enforcement bodies to frame people.
“The bottom line? The Core vPro processor is the end of any pretend privacy,” writes Stone. “If you think encryption, Norton, or anything else is going to ensure your privacy, including never hooking up to the web at all, think again. There is now more than just a ghost in the machine.”j