Firmware


In electronic systems and computing, firmwarea is a type of software that provides control, monitoring and data manipulation of engineered products and systems Typical examples of devices containing firmware are embedded systems such as traffic lights, consumer appliances, remote controls and digital watches, computers, computer peripherals, mobile phones, and digital cameras The firmware contained in these devices provides the low-level control program for the device As of 2013, most firmware can be updated2

Firmware is held in non-volatile memory devices such as ROM, EPROM, or flash memory Changing the firmware of a device may rarely or never be done during its lifetime; some firmware memory devices are permanently installed and cannot be changed after manufacture Common reasons for updating firmware include fixing bugs or adding features to the device This may require ROM integrated circuits to be physically replaced, or flash memory to be reprogrammed through a special procedure3 Firmware such as the ROM BIOS of a personal computer may contain only elementary basic functions of a device and may only provide services to higher-level software Firmware such as the program of an embedded system may be the only program that will run on the system and provide all of its functions

Before integrated circuits, other firmware devices included a discrete semiconductor diode matrix The Apollo guidance computer had firmware consisting of a specially manufactured core memory plane, called "core rope memory", where data were stored by physically threading wires through 1 or around 0 the core storing each data bit4

Contents

  • 1 History
  • 2 Applications
    • 21 Personal computers
    • 22 Consumer products
    • 23 Automobiles
  • 3 Examples
  • 4 Flashing
  • 5 Firmware hacking
    • 51 HDD firmware hacks
  • 6 Security risks
  • 7 See also
  • 8 Notes
  • 9 References
  • 10 External links

Historyedit

Ascher Opler coined the term "firmware" in a 1967 Datamation article5 Originally, it meant the contents of a writable control store a small specialized high speed memory, containing microcode that defined and implemented the computer's instruction set, and that could be reloaded to specialize or modify the instructions that the central processing unit CPU could execute As originally used, firmware contrasted with hardware the CPU itself and software normal instructions executing on a CPU It was not composed of CPU machine instructions, but of lower-level microcode involved in the implementation of machine instructions It existed on the boundary between hardware and software; thus the name "firmware" Over time, popular usage extended the word "firmware" to denote any software that is tightly linked to hardware, including processor machine instructions for BIOS, bootstrap loaders, or the control systems for simple electronic devices such as a microwave oven, remote control, or computer peripheral

Applicationsedit

Personal computersedit

ROM BIOS firmware on a Baby AT motherboard

In some respects, the various firmware components are as important as the operating system in a working computer However, unlike most modern operating systems, firmware rarely has a well-evolved automatic mechanism of updating itself to fix any functionality issues detected after shipping the unit

The BIOS may be "manually" updated by a user, using a small utility program In contrast, firmware in storage devices harddisks, DVD drives, flash storage rarely gets updated, even when flash rather than ROM storage is used for the firmware; there are no standardized mechanisms for detecting or updating firmware versions

Most computer peripherals are themselves special-purpose computers Devices such as printers, scanners, cameras and USB flash drives have internally stored firmware; some devices may also permit field upgrading of their firmware

Some low-cost peripherals no longer contain non-volatile memory for firmware, and instead rely on the host system to transfer the device control program from a disk file or CD6

Consumer productsedit

As of 2010update most portable music players support firmware upgrades Some companies use firmware updates to add new playable file formats codecs; iriver added Vorbis playback support this way, for instance Other features that may change with firmware updates include the GUI or even the battery life Most mobile phones have a Firmware Over The Air firmware upgrade capability for much the same reasons; some may even be upgraded to enhance reception or sound quality, illustrating the fact that firmware is used at more than one level in complex products in a CPU-like microcontroller versus in a digital signal processor, in this particular case

Automobilesedit

Since 1996 most automobiles have employed an on-board computer and various sensors to detect mechanical problems As of 2010update, modern vehicles also employ computer-controlled ABS systems and computer-operated transmission control units TCUs The driver can also get in-dash information while driving in this manner, such as real-time fuel economy and tire pressure readings Local dealers can update most vehicle firmware

Examplesedit

Examples of firmware include:

  • In consumer products:
    • Timing and control systems for washing machines
    • Controlling sound and video attributes, as well as the channel list, in modern TVs
    • EPROM chips used in the Eventide H-3000 series of digital music processors
  • In computers:
    • The BIOS found in IBM-compatible personal computers
    • The UEFI-compliant firmware used on Itanium systems, Intel-based computers from Apple, and many Intel desktop computer motherboards
    • Open Firmware, used in SPARC-based computers from Sun Microsystems and Oracle Corporation, PowerPC-based computers from Apple, and computers from Genesi
    • ARCS, used in computers from Silicon Graphics
    • Kickstart, used in the Amiga line of computers POST, hardware init + Plug and Play auto-configuration of peripherals, kernel, etc
    • RTAS Run-Time Abstraction Services, used in computers from IBM
    • The Common Firmware Environment CFE
  • In routers and firewalls:
    • LibreCMC – a 100% free software router distribution based on the Linux-libre kernel
    • IPFire – an open-source firewall/router distribution based on the Linux kernel
    • fli4l – an open-source firewall/router distribution based on the Linux kernel
    • OpenWrt – an open-source firewall/router distribution based on the Linux kernel
    • m0n0wall – an embedded firewall distribution of FreeBSD
  • In NAS systems:
    • NAS4Free – an open-source NAS operating system based on FreeBSD 91
    • Openfiler – an open-source NAS operating system based on the Linux kernel

Flashingedit

Flashing7 involves the overwriting of existing firmware or data, contained in EEPROM or flash memory modules present in an electronic device, with new data7 This can be done to upgrade a device8 or to change the provider of a service associated with the function of the device, such as changing from one mobile phone service provider to another or installing a new operating system If firmware is upgradable, it is often done via a program from the provider, and will often allow the old firmware to be saved before upgrading so it can be reverted to if the process fails, or if the newer version performs worse

Firmware hackingedit

Main article: Custom firmware

Sometimes, third parties create an unofficial new or modified "aftermarket" version of firmware in order to provide new features or to unlock hidden functionality; this is referred to as custom firmware also "Custom Firmware" in the video game console community An example is Rockbox as a firmware replacement for portable media players There are many homebrew projects for video game consoles, which often unlock general-purpose computing functionality in previously limited devices eg, running Doom on iPods

Firmware hacks usually take advantage of the firmware update facility on many devices to install or run themselves Some, however, must resort to exploits in order to run, because the manufacturer has attempted to lock the hardware to stop it from running unlicensed code

Most firmware hacks are free software

HDD firmware hacksedit

The Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab discovered that a group of developers it refers to as the "Equation Group" has developed hard disk drive firmware modifications for various drive models, containing a trojan horse that allows data to be stored on the drive in locations that will not be erased even if the drive is formatted or wiped9 Although the Kaspersky Lab report did not explicitly claim that this group is part of the United States National Security Agency NSA, evidence obtained from the code of various Equation Group software suggests that they are part of the NSA1011

Researchers from the Kaspersky Lab categorized the undertakings by Equation Group as the most advanced hacking operation ever uncovered, also documenting around 500 infections caused by the Equation Group in at least 42 countries

Security risksedit

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, has described proprietary firmware as a security risk, saying that "firmware on your device is the NSA's best friend" and calling firmware "a trojan horse of monumental proportions" He has asserted that low-quality, nonfree firmware is a major threat to system security: "Your biggest mistake is to assume that the NSA is the only institution abusing this position of trust – in fact, it's reasonable to assume that all firmware is a cesspool of insecurity, courtesy of incompetence of the highest degree from manufacturers, and competence of the highest degree from a very wide range of such agencies" As a potential solution to this problem, he has called for declarative firmware, which would describe "hardware linkage and dependencies" and "should not include executable code"12

Custom firmware hacks have also focused on injecting malware into devices such as smartphones or USB devices One such smartphone injection was demonstrated on the Symbian OS at MalCon,1314 a hacker convention A USB device firmware hack called BadUSB was presented at Black Hat USA 2014 conference,15 demonstrating how a USB flash drive microcontroller can be reprogrammed to spoof various other device types in order to take control of a computer, exfiltrate data, or spy on the user1617 Other security researchers have worked further on how to exploit the principles behind BadUSB,18 releasing at the same time the source code of hacking tools that can be used to modify the behavior of different USB devices19

See alsoedit

  • Computing portal
  • Electronics portal
  • Computer hardware
  • Custom firmware
  • Binary blob
  • Bootloader
  • Coreboot
  • Microcode
  • ROM image

Notesedit

  1. ^ It is sometimes abbreviated as "FW", which is constructed after "HW" and "SW" standing for "hardware" and "software", respectively1

Referencesedit

  1. ^ "Ciena – Acronym Guide" cienacom Retrieved 6 February 2016 
  2. ^ Mark, Soper; Prowse, David; Mueller, Scott September 2012 Authorized Cert Guide: CompTIA A+ Pearson Education ISBN 978-0-7897-4850-8 
  3. ^ "What is firmware" incepatorpinzaruro Retrieved 2013-06-14 
  4. ^ Dag Spicer August 12, 2000 "One Giant Leap: The Apollo Guidance Computer" Dr Dobbs Retrieved August 24, 2012 
  5. ^ Opler, Ascher January 1967 "Fourth-Generation Software" Datamation 13 1: 22–24 
  6. ^ Corbet, Jonathan; Rubini, Alessandro; Kroah-Hartman, Greg 2005 Linux Device Drivers O'Reilly Media p 405 ISBN 0596005903 
  7. ^ a b "Flashing Firmware" Tech-Faqcom Retrieved July 8, 2011 
  8. ^ "HTC Developer Center" HTC Archived from the original on April 26, 2011 Retrieved July 8, 2011 
  9. ^ "Equation Group: The Crown Creator of Cyber-Espionage" Kaspersky Lab February 16, 2015 
  10. ^ Dan Goodin February 2015 "How "omnipotent" hackers tied to NSA hid for 14 years—and were found at last" Ars Technica 
  11. ^ "Breaking: Kaspersky Exposes NSA's Worldwide, Backdoor Hacking of Virtually All Hard-Drive Firmware" Daily Kos February 17, 2015 
  12. ^ Shuttleworth, Mark March 17, 2014 "ACPI, firmware and your security" 
  13. ^ "We will be back soon!" Malconorg Retrieved 2013-06-14 
  14. ^ "Hacker plants back door in Symbian firmware" H-onlinecom 2010-12-08 Archived from the original on 21 May 2013 Retrieved 2013-06-14 
  15. ^ "Why the Security of USB Is Fundamentally Broken" Wiredcom 2014-07-31 Retrieved 2014-08-04 
  16. ^ "BadUSB - On Accessories that Turn Evil" BlackHatcom Retrieved 2014-08-06 
  17. ^ Karsten Nohl; Sascha Krißler; Jakob Lell 2014-08-07 "BadUSB – On accessories that turn evil" PDF srlabsde Retrieved 2014-08-23 
  18. ^ "BadUSB Malware Released - Infect millions of USB Drives" The Hacking Post - Latest hacking News & Security Updates Retrieved 7 October 2014 
  19. ^ "The Unpatchable Malware That Infects USBs Is Now on the Loose" WIRED Retrieved 7 October 2014 

External linksedit

  • BadUSB - On Accessories that Turn Evil on YouTube, by Karsten Nohl and Jakob Lell
  • Phison 2251-03 2303 Custom Firmware & Existing Firmware Patches BadUSB
  • Hard disk hacking includes an analysis of feasible security exploits through firmware modifications, in eight parts
  • Snake on a keyboard firmware modifications, in seven parts


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