Hewlett Packard to sell PCs with a self-healing BIOS for security

HP to ship new PCs with self-healing BIOS

Microsoft By Lee Mathews Sep. 17, 2013

Protecting today’s computers against sophisticated malware requires more than just an up-to-date antivirus app. HP is ramping up protection on its PCs by integrating self-healing BIOS chips that will be able to fend off firmware-level infections.

The process is simple enough. At boot time, the active BIOS is checked against a pristine BIOS image (presumably read-only) that’s securely stored on a machine. If there’s a discrepancy, the system assumes tampering has taken place and the questionable BIOS is overwritten. Any malware that tried to go resident in the BIOS is wiped out, without any intervention by users. HP’s self-healing systems simply shrug off the infection and restart as they normally would.

HP isn’t the only company doing this, of course. Google has built similar functionality into Chrome OS. Chromebooks and Chrometops can, however, heal the entire OS if something nefarious is detected at startup — not just the BIOS.

Gigabyte, too, has been doing this for nearly a decade. Dual BIOS was designed more as a way for hardcore PC enthusiasts to recover from failed firmware updates or overclocking mishaps. A secondary BIOS chip provides an easy way to get things back to normal — and today that even includes repairing damage from a firmware infection. And just like HPs new tech, Gigabyte’s Dual BIOS setup can heal itself silently in the background.

So why has one of the world’s top PC manufacturers decided to introduce self-healing BIOS now? HP’s Michael Park says that Microsoft has made Windows much more secure, but that “there’s a lot of malware will come in under the OS and take over the underlying BIOS.”

“A lot” is an exaggeration. Malware that targets a system’s BIOS does exist, but it’s not very common. The bad guys never stop looking for ways to exploit a system, however, and BIOS is a very juicy target.

Which PC will sound more appealing to enterprise IT admins or security-conscious consumers? One that says it can automatically repair damage from these nasty new infections, or one that can’t make that claim?

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