Apple Macs may not be as safe as we all thought.
Two researchers have created a worm that could enable a firmware attack to spread undetected on MacBooks without requiring them to be networked, according to a report from Wired.
The worm, which the researchers call Thunderstrike 2, is extremely difficult to detect because it never touches system files or the operating system. This also means that it can’t be detected by security software scanning for malicious code.
It is spread either by phishing email or by using a device that connects to your computer, like an Ethernet adaptor. That means someone sends you a phony email that encourages you to click a link. That link installs the worm on your Mac. The worm then writes its malicious malware on the computer’s “bootflash firmware,” giving it complete access to the computer. It can then target other devices plugged into your computer, like a USB stick, infecting the firmware of that device so that the worm continues to spread with each computer it is plugged into.
In January, Trammell Hudson, a security engineer at Two Sigma Investments, revealed the Thunderstrike virus, which also targets MacBook firmware and can’t be detected. But unlike Thunderstrike 2, the original Thunderstrike virus could only be spread via physical access through the peripherals.
In total, the researchers said they discovered five vulnerabilities in Apple’s firmware. These vulnerabilities enabled the researchers to design the dangerous worm. Apple has fixed one of them and partially patched another, but three security holes are untouched, the researchers told Wired.
Tech Insider reached out to Apple for comment and will update the story as soon as we get a response.
Hudson and Xeno Kovah, owner of the firmware security consultancy LegbaCore, are both responsible for designing the worm and will reveal more details about their research this week at BlackHat.
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