HP Laptops Spring (Another) Security Leak

A successful attack can cause system files to be "unrecoverably destroyed" or Windows systems to be unbootable.

For the third time this year, a remotely exploitable zero-day vulnerability has been found in software pre-installed on brand new Hewlett Packard notebook computers.

The flaw, which puts millions of Windows users at risk of serious attacks, affects every HP laptop that ships with HP Software Update, the computer's built-in patch management utility.

A Polish security researcher who uses the online moniker "porkythepig" plans to issue an alert—with accompanying exploit code—within the next 24 hours to demonstrate the impact of the vulnerability on Windows-powered HP machines.

In an e-mail interview with eWEEK, the researcher warned that hackers could use rigged Web sites to launch remote attacks on every HP laptop running Internet Explorer.

The actual vulnerability lies in an ActiveX Control used by the HP Software Update tool. Normally, security professionals recommend that buggy ActiveX controls be disabled if there's an attack scenario, but in this case, disabling the vulnerable control would completely disable the HP software update system, he added.


The issue affects machines with the HP Software Update client v3.0.8.4 (Internet Explorer 6.0 and Internet Explorer 7.0). Exploits have been tested against Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Vista systems.

The researcher provided eWEEK with an advance copy of the exploit code to highlight the severity of main attack vectors.

In one scenario, a social engineering lure can be used by the attacker to acquire the exact name and location of sensitive system files. Once this is known, the attacker can cause the files to be "unrecoverably destroyed."

Another example in the advisory outlines how a booby-trapped Web page can launch a drive-by exploit that corrupts vital operating system files, "leaving the system unusable."

The second attack vector doesn't require any additional social engineering, because the system files are always placed in the predictable locations, he warned.


Click here to read about a zero-day access flaw in Microsoft Office Access.

This is the third time this year HP has been forced to scramble to issue patches after the public release of zero-day vulnerability information.

In June 2007, the company acknowledged and fixed a buffer overflow condition in the Help and Support Center utility and warned that unpatched machines were sitting ducks for drive-by malware downloads.

One week ago, a third security hole—in the HP Info Center—was also patched to provide cover for code execution scenarios affecting more than 80 HP laptop models.

Hewlett-Packard spokesperson Tom Augenthaler says the company takes the security of its products very seriously and assigns significant resources to address known vulnerabilities.

The company could not be reached for comment on the newest discovery. "Porkythepig" said he plans to give the company only 24 hours notice before going public with his findings.

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