Surveillance software maker Hacking Team has provided its government customers with the ability to infect the low-level firmware found in laptops and other computers that they wanted to spy on.
The company developed a tool that can be used to modify a computer’s UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) so that it silently reinstalls its surveillance tool even if the hard drive is wiped clean or replaced.
UEFI is a replacement for the traditional BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) and is meant to standardize modern computer firmware through a reference specification. But there are multiple companies that develop UEFI firmware, and there can be significant differences between the implementations used by PC manufactures.
Hacking Team developed a method for infecting the UEFI firmware developed by Insyde Software, a Taiwanese company that counts Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Lenovo, Acer and Toshiba among its customers, according to security researchers from antivirus vendor Trend Micro.