The Saga of HBGary

February 19, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

“In 2009, HBGary had partnered with the Advanced Information Systems group of defense contractor General Dynamics to work on a project euphemistically known as “Task B.” The team had a simple mission: slip a piece of stealth software onto a target laptop without the owner’s knowledge.

They focused on ports—a laptop’s interfaces to the world around it—including the familiar USB port, the less-common PCMCIA Type II card slot, the smaller ExpressCard slot, WiFi, and Firewire. No laptop would have all of these, but most recent machines would have at least two.

The HBGary engineering team broke this list down into three categories. First came the “direct access” ports that provided “uninhibited electronic direct memory access.” PCMCIA, ExpressCard, and Firewire all allowed external devices—say a custom piece of hardware delivered by a field operative—to interact directly with the laptop with a minimum amount of fuss.

The direct memory access provided by the controllers for these ports mean that devices in them can write directly to the computer’s memory without intervention from the main CPU and with little restriction from the operating system. If you want to overwrite key parts of the operating system to sneak in a bit of your own code, this is the easiest way to go.”

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