Intel Chip Flaw Enables Malware to Gain Full Access to Computer Assets

Today’s topics include the revelation that a flaw in Intel processors allows undetectable malware; Google blocking Amazon Fire TV and Echo Show users from accessing YouTube; Apple Pay Cash allowing person-to-person payment capabilities from Apple devices; and HP and Asus offering “Always Connected PCs” that run Windows 10 on Arm-based processors.

A flaw in Intel processors allows malware to reside undetectable on nearly any recent Intel-based computer manufactured since at least 2015, researchers from Positive Technologies revealed Dec. 6 at Black Hat Europe.

The malware, which is located inside a processor’s Management Engine, has access to data stored or passing through the computer, regardless of encryption or other protective technologies.

An Intel spokesperson told eWEEK that the Management Engine does not give access to certain hardware assets in an affected computer, such as the graphics card, disk controller or network interface card. The spokesperson also emphasized that any malware that is successfully installed in the Management Engine can be removed if the software is re-flashed.

The Management Engine embedded in each Intel processor starts running when the computer starts up and keeps running as long as there’s power to the processor, allowing the malware to siphon off data when a computer is in use.

Once the malware gets inside the Management Engine, it’s impossible to remove and nearly undetectable. Intel has published an alert regarding this vulnerability, and has published a tool to determine a processor’s level of vulnerability.

Starting Jan. 1, Google will block people using Amazon's Fire TV digital media player from directly accessing and viewing YouTube videos. This is the latest incident in an escalating business battle between the two companies.

Google is already blocking YouTube access on Echo Show, Amazon's new smart speaker with an integrated display. The reason for these moves, according to a Google spokesman, is that “Amazon doesn't carry Google products like Chromecast and Google Home, doesn't make Prime Video available for Google Cast users, and last month stopped selling some of Nest's latest products.”

The spokesman said Google hopes the companies “can reach an agreement to resolve these issues soon." An Amazon spokesman did not comment on his company’s treatment of Google's products, but expressed disapproval of Google's plans and said they are working on resolving the issue.

Announced Dec. 5, Apple Pay Cash features have been added to Apple Pay, enabling iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch users to send or receive money directly to and from other users.

With the new service, Apple now puts its full payment services on par with competitors like Venmo, Square Cash, PayPal and Google Wallet, which already allow person-to-person money transfers in the United States.

With Apple Pay Cash, users will be able to send direct payments to others right from an iMessage on their Apple devices, where they are already communicating with friends.

Apple device users can also use Apple Pay Cash to send gifts, securely split restaurant and household bills, and make secure purchases in stores.

Hewlett Packard and Asus announced on Dec. 5 the completion of "Always Connected PCs" that run Windows 10 on Arm-based processors.

Always Connected PCs are a device class outfitted with mobile chips, long-lasting battery life and cellular connectivity options that alleviate the need to hunt down WiFi networks while on the road.

Microsoft Vice President Terry Myerson said of the PCs, "The screen is instantly on whenever I pick up the device. I never have to wait for it to wake up—it's just on." In the spring of 2018, HP will ship the Envy x2, powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip and bundled with Windows 10 S, although buyers will be able to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.

Asus, meanwhile, is billing its new NovaGo convertible laptop as the "world's first Gigabit LTE laptop," a 13.3-inch Windows 10 S device that features a Qualcomm X16 LTE modem for brisk downloads over compatible networks.

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