Business & Data Protection

Firmware cyber-attacks: the next big thing?



An interesting article in the BBC news highlights a lesser-known, but potentially devastating cyber-threat for medium to larger businesses – a hack into their computer firmware.  A survey conducted by Microsoft has found that 80% of firms have experienced a firm ware attack in the past 2 years, but less than a third of security budgets are allocated to protect firmware. In addition, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology has recorded a 5 fold increase in firmware attacks in the last 4 years. Covid lockdown has created an environment where the time and trouble needed to arrange such an attack has become much less of a problem for cyber-criminals.

Firmware is the inbuilt code which controls each component in a PC.  It is harder to access than software, but if infiltrated it can be almost impossible to detect, and may leave no trace. Regular patch updates for the firmware as well as the software can reduce the risk of an attack succeeding, but because it is more complicated to put in place, it may be overlooked or delayed.

While the risk is only likely to be significant for medium to large size businesses, it is clearly a growing threat that should be considered as part of the data risk management strategy of all larger businesses. With more staff working from home and connecting remotely to work servers, each external device which connects provides an opportunity for hackers. Steps that should be taken include a review of how and through which devices employees connect to the central system, a reassessment of technical and organisational cyber-security measures to ensure that firmware protection is given sufficient prominence, and further training for employees to raise awareness of the risks and ensure that they take the necessary steps to keep any authorised personal devices up to standard with recommended protection measures. This last is perhaps the most important, since most cyber-breaches and data breaches occur as the result of human error, inattention or carelessness.