Remember back in the early days of the Internet people were worried that “hackers” could break into their computers and cause permanent hardware damage, and those of us in-the-know would be all, “pshaw! Can’t happen” about it? As it turns out, a new attack method called a PDOS (permanent denial-of-service) can do just that. It’s going to be demonstrated this week by a computer security researcher, and it’s apparently a very real and threatening way to destroy someone’s hardware remotely.
The reason it’s so dangerous is because unlike most scripts or viruses or trojans, it doesn’t attack the OS, instead using firmware flaws to render your machine a brick. The firmware is a small piece of software that’s actually embedded in your computer’s motherboard, which lets the operating system (XP, Vista, OSX, etc.) communicate with the various components within the box. By taking over this area, a hacker could theoretically cause all sorts of hardware mischief, even destroying the machine.
This is a scary area that most security experts don’t spend much time on. Firmware viruses are arcane at best, but as we’re seeing they can be quite powerful. We’ll see what this hack is like, as it could be doomsday for many users if patches aren’t made fast.