Meet “badBIOS,” the mysterious Mac and PC malware that jumps airgaps

Meet “badBIOS,” the mysterious Mac and PC malware that jumps airgaps

badBios = Part of US, Israel Stuxnet - Flame? Most Likely Scenario Based on Known Facts
badBios = Part of US, Israel Stuxnet – Flame? Most Likely Scenario Based on Known Facts

Like a super strain of bacteria, the rootkit plaguing Dragos Ruiu is omnipotent.

The US, Israeli ‘God’ Virus: badBios, Partial Clone of Stuxnet-Flame? Being scammed as the Hagerott Virus for confusion. No detection, no cure, infects everything plugged into it. Infects everything with a speaker and microphone. Only way to detect other than your computer doing whatever it’s been told to do, as though you were doing it, is that the computer will no longer boot from a CD.

“Three years ago, security consultant Dragos Ruiu was in his lab when he noticed something highly unusual: his MacBook Air, on which he had just installed a fresh copy of OS X, spontaneously updated the firmware that helps it boot. Stranger still, when Ruiu then tried to boot the machine off a CD ROM, it refused. He also found that the machine could delete data and undo configuration changes with no prompting. He didn’t know it then, but that odd firmware update would become a high-stakes malware mystery that would consume most of his waking hours.

In the following months, Ruiu observed more odd phenomena that seemed straight out of a science-fiction thriller. A computer running the Open BSD operating system also began to modify its settings and delete its data without explanation or prompting. His network transmitted data specific to the Internet’s

next-generation IPv6 networking protocol, even from computers that were supposed to have IPv6 completely disabled. Strangest of all was the ability of infected machines to transmit small amounts of network data with other infected machines even when their power cords and Ethernet cables were unplugged and their Wi-Fi and Bluetooth cards were removed. Further investigation soon showed that the list of affected operating systems also included multiple variants of Windows and Linux.

“We were like, ‘Okay, we’re totally owned,'” Ruiu told Ars. “‘We have to erase all our systems and start from scratch,’ which we did. It was a very painful exercise. I’ve been suspicious of stuff around here ever since.”

In the intervening three years, Ruiu said, the infections have persisted, almost like a strain of bacteria that’s able to survive extreme antibiotic therapies. Within hours or weeks of wiping an infected computer clean, the odd behavior would return. The most visible sign of contamination is a machine’s inability to boot off a CD, but other, more subtle behaviors can be observed when using tools such as Process Monitor, which is designed for troubleshooting and forensic investigations.

Another intriguing characteristic: in addition to jumping “airgaps” designed to isolate infected or sensitive machines from all other networked computers, the malware seems to have self-healing capabilities.

“We had an air-gapped computer that just had its [firmware] BIOS reflashed, a fresh disk drive installed, and zero data on it, installed from a Windows system CD,” Ruiu said. “At one point, we were editing some of the components and our registry editor got disabled. It was like: wait a minute, how can that happen? How can the machine react and attack the software that we’re using to attack it? This is an air-gapped machine and all of a sudden the search function in the registry editor stopped working when we were using it to search for their keys.”

Over the past two weeks, Ruiu has taken to Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus to document his investigative odyssey and share a theory that has captured the attention of some of the world’s foremost security experts. The malware, Ruiu believes, is transmitted though USB drives to infect the lowest levels of computer hardware. With the ability to target a computer’s Basic Input/Output System (BIOS), Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), and possibly other firmware standards, the malware can attack a wide variety of platforms, escape common forms of detection, and survive most attempts to eradicate it.

But the story gets stranger still. In posts here, here, and here, Ruiu posited another theory that sounds like something from the screenplay of a post-apocalyptic movie: “badBIOS,” as Ruiu dubbed the malware, has the ability to use high-frequency transmissions passed between computer speakers and microphones to bridge airgaps.

Bigfoot in the age of the advanced persistent threat

At times as I’ve reported this story, its outline has struck me as the stuff of urban legend, the advanced persistent threat equivalent of a Bigfoot sighting. Indeed, Ruiu has conceded that while several fellow security experts have assisted his investigation, none has peer reviewed his process or the tentative findings that he’s beginning to draw. (A compilation of Ruiu’s observations is here.)

Also unexplained is why Ruiu would be on the receiving end of such an advanced and exotic attack. As a security professional, the organizer of the internationally renowned CanSecWest and PacSec conferences, and the founder of the Pwn2Own hacking competition, he is no doubt an attractive target to state-sponsored spies and financially motivated hackers. But he’s no more attractive a target than hundreds or thousands of his peers, who have so far not reported the kind of odd phenomena that has afflicted Ruiu’s computers and networks.

In contrast to the skepticism that’s common in the security and hacking cultures, Ruiu’s peers have mostly responded with deep-seated concern and even fascination to his dispatches about badBIOS.

“Everybody in security needs to follow @dragosr and watch his analysis of #badBIOS,” Alex Stamos, one of the more trusted and sober security researchers, wrote in a tweet last week. Jeff Moss—the founder of the Defcon and Blackhat security conferences who in 2009 began advising Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on matters of computer security— retweeted the statement and added: “No joke it’s really serious.” Plenty of others agree.

“Dragos is definitely one of the good reliable guys, and I have never ever even remotely thought him dishonest,” security researcher Arrigo Triulzi told Ars. “Nothing of what he describes is science fiction taken individually, but we have not seen it in the wild ever.”

Been there, done that

Triulzi said he’s seen plenty of firmware-targeting malware in the laboratory. A client of his once infected the UEFI-based BIOS of his Mac laptop as part of an experiment. Five years ago, Triulzi himself developed proof-of-conceptmalware that stealthily infected the network interface controllers that sit on a computer motherboard and provide the Ethernet jack that connects the machine to a network. His research built off of work by John Heasman that demonstrated how to plant hard-to-detect malware known as a rootkit in a computer’s peripheral component interconnect, the Intel-developed connection that attaches hardware devices to a CPU.

It’s also possible to use high-frequency sounds broadcast over speakers to send network packets. Early networking standards used the technique, said security expert Rob Graham. Ultrasonic-based networking is also the subject of a great deal of research, including this project by scientists at MIT.

Of course, it’s one thing for researchers in the lab to demonstrate viable firmware-infecting rootkits and ultra high-frequency networking techniques. But as Triulzi suggested, it’s another thing entirely to seamlessly fuse the two together and use the weapon in the real world against a seasoned security consultant. What’s more, use of a USB stick to infect an array of computer platforms at the BIOS level rivals the payload delivery system found in the state-sponsored Stuxnet worm unleashed to dirupt Iran’s nuclear program. And the reported ability of badBIOS to bridge airgaps also has parallels to Flame, another state-sponsored piece of malware that used Bluetooth radio signals to communicate with devices not connected to the Internet.

“Really, everything Dragos reports is something that’s easily within the capabilities of a lot of people,” said Graham, who is CEO of penetration testing firm Errata Security. “I could, if I spent a year, write a BIOS that does everything Dragos said badBIOS is doing. To communicate over ultrahigh frequency sound waves between computers is really, really easy.”

Coincidentally, Italian newspapers this week reported that Russian spies attempted to monitor attendees of last month’s G20 economic summit by giving them memory sticks and recharging cables programmed to intercept their  communications.


For most of the three years that Ruiu has been wrestling with badBIOS, its infection mechanism remained a mystery. A month or two ago, after buying a new computer, he noticed that it was almost immediately infected as soon as he plugged one of his USB drives into it. He soon theorized that infected computers have the ability to contaminate USB devices and vice versa.

“The suspicion right now is there’s some kind of buffer overflow in the way the BIOS is reading the drive itself, and they’re reprogramming the flash controller to overflow the BIOS and then adding a section to the BIOS table,” he explained.

He still doesn’t know if a USB stick was the initial infection trigger for his MacBook Air three years ago, or if the USB devices were infected only after they came into contact with his compromised machines, which he said now number between one and two dozen. He said he has been able to identify a variety of USB sticks that infect any computer they are plugged into. At next month’s PacSec conference, Ruiu said he plans to get access to expensive USB analysis hardware that he hopes will provide new clues behind the infection mechanism.

He said he suspects badBIOS is only the initial module of a multi-staged payload that has the ability to infect the Windows, Mac OS X, BSD, and Linux operating systems.

What’s more, use of a USB stick to infect an array of computer platforms at the BIOS level rivals the payload delivery system found in the state-sponsored Stuxnet worm unleashed to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.And the reported ability of badBIOS to bridge airgaps also has parallels to Flame, another state-sponsored piece of malware that used Bluetooth radio signals to communicate with devices not connected to the Internet.

“Things kept getting fixed”

Ruiu said he arrived at the theory about badBIOS’s high-frequency networking capability after observing encrypted data packets being sent to and from an infected laptop that had no obvious network connection with—but was in close proximity to—another badBIOS-infected computer. The packets were transmitted even when the laptop had its Wi-Fi and Bluetooth cards removed. Ruiu also disconnected the machine’s power cord so it ran only on battery to rule out the possibility that it was receiving signals over the electrical connection. Even then, forensic tools showed the packets continued to flow over the airgapped machine. Then, when Ruiu removed the internal speaker and microphone connected to the airgapped machine, the packets suddenly stopped.

With the speakers and mic intact, Ruiu said, the isolated computer seemed to be using the high-frequency connection to maintain the integrity of the badBIOS infection as he worked to dismantle software components the malware relied on.

“The airgapped machine is acting like it’s connected to the Internet,” he said. “Most of the problems we were having is we were slightly disabling bits of the components of the system. It would not let us disable some things. Things kept getting fixed automatically as soon as we tried to break them. It was weird.”

It’s too early to say with confidence that what Ruiu has been observing is a USB-transmitted rootkit that can burrow into a computer’s lowest levels and use it as a jumping off point to infect a variety of operating systems with malware that can’t be detected. It’s even harder to know for sure that infected systems are using high-frequency sounds to communicate with isolated machines. But after almost two weeks of online discussion, no one has been able to rule out these troubling scenarios, either.

“It looks like the state of the art in intrusion stuff is a lot more advanced than we assumed it was,” Ruiu concluded in an interview. “The take-away from this is a lot of our forensic procedures are weak when faced with challenges like this. A lot of companies have to take a lot more care when they use forensic data if they’re faced with sophisticated attackers.”

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Author: Ed Ward MD

Ed Ward, MD - Reporting and investigating Constitutional abuses of this government for over a decade. AS, BS in Medical Technology - Minor in Organic Chemistry and Physics, volunteer during the Viet Nam war 6 years active duty 'Air Farce' - a decade experience in Medical Technology. MD degree from LSU, New Orleans - 2 decades in the field of General Practice.. Articles also referenced by experts in their field. Friend me at #DanceMonkeysDance

2 thoughts on “Meet “badBIOS,” the mysterious Mac and PC malware that jumps airgaps”

  1. TPP, summed up nicely. TPP: From corporation personhood to corporate nationhood

    Murdering, thieving scumbag corp, government, individual? Just hire some ‘Ameners’ for your scheme. And of course, these Amener murdering scumbags f!cks and their blood money have NOTHING to do with the death, murder and destruction they ‘promote’, and certainly do not deserve to be tried and held accountable for their assistance to murder and crimes against humanity. NO! PRAISE THE MURDEROUS F!CKS AND THEIR ACCESSORY TO CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY.

    Surprise. More insane reality of murdering thieving f!cks. Woman touted as Obamacare success story learns she can’t afford coverage

    750 Million for a Program that DOES NOT EXIST. Energy Dept. told to halt customer fee for nuclear waste disposal program that doesn’t exist

    113 Nations Walk Out of UN Over Western Fascism

    US plots to kill idea of global digital privacy at the UN – report

    I just love Nazi scumbags that can lie, and smugly chide the apathy and ignorance of the herd at the same time . NC Gov Pat McCrory: We Didn’t ‘Shorten Early Voting,’ We ‘Compacted The Calendar’

    I suspect this is a dual purge. Those that will not fire on their own citizens and those that may or will not participate in events that could or would end in a nuclear WW3.

    Another controlled opposition coup It’s an unusual occurrence, to support the cause, but not the organization, but it is something that must be done. Individual leaders supporting a cause, not blind followers of a ‘leader’ or org.

    For all you fans of covert ops noam, keep gobbling him and his propaganda up. just another covert op scumbag in need of trial for at least accessory after the fact to mass murder and treason.

    Blackmail: The Real Reason for Spying? Of course it was only to discredit ‘terrorists’, certainly couldn’t be used on ‘friends’ as blackmail to keep them in line.

    Dramatic volcano eruption gives birth to new Japanese islet With the massive changes occurring from removal of TREMENDOUS MASSES of weight on the surface and their repositioning, the Earth is going to see many more earthquakes, tidal waves, active volcanoes, sink holes, and other reactive planetary changes due to the redistribution of BILLIONS of TONS of weight.

    New economic salvation for Japan… The nuclear dump of the world?

    Interesting, finally starting to see basic physics coming out. As, I’ve noted I didn’t expect them to even try on fuel that has to have been exposed to a neutron flux. And again, even if the whole pool goes, IT’S ONLY A DOUBLING OF WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE.

    Nazis at work, Gitmo…

    One is officially due on 2050 The kinder gentler new age god…

    Let’s see massive radioactive debris pile followed closely behind by a vast ocean of death – where the f!ck is there left to go?

    First wave yet to hit US, second wave will be significantly worse. Let’s see massive radioactive debris pile followed closely behind by a vast ocean of death – where the f!ck is there left to go? 1 million tons of debris in the ocean coming to US. But, it’s dispersed, cause oceans ‘do that’.

    In 2007, and it’s gotten a lot worse even without fukushima, Are there continents of garbage in the ocean? But, pay no attention to the floating continents of debris, believe the government propaganda murderous BS.

    A little more basic physics comes home to roost.. Finally admitting, after they’ve known for 2 years, they can not locate the 3 molten reactor cores. Another confirmation of what my readers have known since almost day one, based on basic physics.

    “Radionuclides from Fukushima due to hit U.S. West Coast any day now” — Senior Scientist: “Really bizarre” U.S. gov’t not testing for it — Concerned officials contacting him about threat

    Partial truths revealed

    How f!cking easy is WW3 going to be? Just takes one of these idiotic games to go wrong…

    AI Advancement Created by AI Computers.

    RE: To this reality that seems it beats me daily…
    Cool f!cking song
    I dedicate this to my Bud Ed Ward…who has been mistreated by the institution yet maintains a love for humanity that I cannot equal…
    Give my brother Ed all love…with all respect…brilliant mind…
    ALL LOVE MY FRIENDS – Who Do You Think You Are? (Good tempo, vocals, catchy, very good instrumentals – worth a listen – or maybe not, art being what it is) Dr Ed

    Russia villain – Russia Hero, quite quickly. Coincidence with a NWO, which is nothing but the old world order with world wide co ordination. Nah, go back to sleep, nothing to see here, Russia is really a beacon of ‘freedom’ and a ‘friend’ of the people. No government will help the people, only the government. The resistance must come from within each of us, not by some leaders of a ‘new improved regime’. As a friend of mine noted. A slave is someone who waits for another to free them. When that happens, you still have a slave, but with a kinder, gentler master. Until one decides they are their own master, there is only one other position available – slave.

    In MSM, the story is almost never the story. Here, NSA basically admits there is more of their fascism that has not surfaced. Apparently, he knows enough to shut their fascist spying down? Possibly specifics on the inner workings – if that is the case – it’s very unlikely the information sees the light of day – 1. suicidal 2. Russia, co conspirator on many levels, would not release – use maybe, but not release. Anyway…

    A note from one of my close Fackbook friends upon his life and music, like so many of US… Sorry Fran, I’m just not that man. I’m just tired, fed up, and don’t give shit anymore. I have no faith in a mankind that has selected thieving murdering f!cks for PRAISE for f!cking centuries – it doesn’t leave much good left, and allowed the destruction of anyone with a backbone resisting it. I’m not so sure I have a love of ‘mankind’, simply the hatred of murdering scumbags. Apathy and ‘self preservation’ has been ‘selected’ for ‘survival’ and approval, any with courage, resolve, intelligence, care for fellow beings, etc., are ‘deselected’ through a variety of whatever means necessary. Needless to say, our current species is nothing but mindless, uncaring, ignorant, fearful followers requiring only some kind of scam ‘validity’ for more ‘deselection’. For humanity, en masse’, those are the facts that can not be denied, regardless of pathetic ‘bandaids for nuclear bombs’ apologies.

    In our current situation, it’s very hard to know what is going on and not be despondent. We face a vast, powerful, entrenched cult of fascism. It’s hard to continue for any length of time in the hopes of laying the groundwork and information for others – active others are required for peaceful revolution, to do it in the ‘requirement’ of winning the war is simply not feasible. Take your breaks when you need them, the fascism will still be here waiting for you when you are ready…. For now, resistance is the only way, winning can only come from numbers – numbers are required for boycotts and work strikes. Once that happens, only then can we look for a WIN.

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