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Analysis Lenovo has sold laptops bundled with unremovable software that features a bonus exploitable security vulnerability. If the crapware is deleted, or the hard drive wiped and Windows reinstalled from scratch, the laptop's firmware will quietly and automatically reinstall Lenovo's software on the next boot-up. The LSE makes sure C: The executable is run during startup, and is supposed to check the computer's file system to make sure it's free of any corruption.
Lenovo's variant of this system file ensures LenovoUpdate. So if you uninstall or delete these programs, the LSE in the firmware will bring them back during the next power-on or reboot. LenovoCheck and LenovoUpdate are executed on startup with full administrator access.
Automatically, and rather rudely, they connect to the internet to download and install drivers, a system "optimizer" , and whatever else Lenovo wants on your computer. Lenovo's software also phones home to the Chinese giant details of the running system. This allows PC manufacturers and corporate IT to inject drivers, programs and other files into the Windows operating system from the motherboard firmware.
The WPBT is stored in the firmware, and tells Windows where in memory it can find an executable called a platform binary to run. Said executable will take care of the job of installing files before the operating system starts. Windows will write the flat image to disk, and the Session Manager will launch the process.
Not in this case: Two months later, in June, it pulled the whole thing: Lenovo has also pulled the LSE from new desktop machines. These models phone home system data, but do not install any extra software, and do not suffer from the aforementioned privilege-escalation vulnerability.
The PC maker's laptops definitely do, however. A tool quietly released on July 31 will uninstall the engine if it is present in your machine: On Tuesday this week, Lenovo published a full list of affected desktop and notebook models.
Desktop machines built between October 23, and April 10, , with Windows 8 preinstalled, have the LSE inside them. The utility also sends non-personally identifiable system data to Lenovo servers," the Chinese goliath explained.
Microsoft has recently released updated security guidelines on how to best implement this feature. Without this climbdown, it would have been virtually impossible for users to remove the rootkit-like engine from the firmware. Delete the file and it reappears on reboot. I've never seen anything like this before. Something to think about before buying Lenovo. What is worrying is that all of this is pretty much what Microsoft intended. Its WPBT is engineered to allow manufacturers to painlessly inject drivers and programs into the operating system.
It's supposed to be used for things like anti-theft tools, so a system can be disabled via the internet if it's stolen. But it also turns rootkit development and installation into a painting-by-the-numbers exercise.
Lenovo got caught because its engine had crap security. And it sounds as though Microsoft pressured Lenovo to kill it. This comes on the back of Lenovo's Superfish scandal , in which the PC maker shipped laptops with adware on them that opened up people to man-in-the-middle eavesdropping. Miscreants could exploit the bundled crapware to snoop on victims' encrypted connections to websites.
The Redmond giant was not available for immediate comment. Minds Mastering Machines - Call for papers now open. The Register - Independent news and views for the tech community. Part of Situation Publishing.
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Because this feature provides the ability to persistently execute system software in the context of Windows, it becomes critical that WPBT-based solutions are as secure as possible and do not expose Windows users to exploitable conditions. Owners of LSE-afflicted computers urged to update their firmware A tool quietly released on July 31 will uninstall the engine if it is present in your machine: The LSE functionality has been removed from newly manufactured systems.
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