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Malware and steganography in hard disk firmware

By Iain Sutherland and Andrew J. Blyth


The hard disk drive remains the most commonly used form of storage media in both commercial and domestic computer systems. These drives can contain a vast range of data both of personal value and commercial significance. This paper focuses on two key areas; the potential for the drive operation to be impacted by malicious software and the possibility for the drive firmware to be manipulated to enable a form of steganography. Hard drive firmware is required for the correct operation of the disk drive in particular for dealing with errors arising due to natural wear as the drive ages. Where an area of the drive becomes unreliable due to wear and tear, the disk firmware which monitors the reliability of data access will copy the data from the failing area to a specially designated reserved area. The firmware remaps this data shift so the old data area and the original copy of the data are no longer accessible by the computer operating system. There are now a small number of commercially available devices, intended for data recovery, which can be used to modify the hard drive firmware components. This functionality can be used to conceal code on the disk drive, either as a form of steganography or to potentially include malicious code with the intention to infect or damage software or possibly system hardware. This paper discusses the potential problem generated by firmware being manipulated for malicious purposes

Topics: hard disk
Year: 2012
DOI identifier: 10.1007/s11416-010-0149-x
OAI identifier:
Provided by: Glamorgan Dspace
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