International Association for Cryptologic Research

International Association
for Cryptologic Research


Zitai Chen


PMFault: Faulting and Bricking Server CPUs through Management Interfaces: Or: A Modern Example of Halt and Catch Fire
Zitai Chen David Oswald
Apart from the actual CPU, modern server motherboards contain other auxiliary components, for example voltage regulators for power management. Those are connected to the CPU and the separate Baseboard Management Controller (BMC) via the I2C-based PMBus. In this paper, using the case study of the widely used Supermicro X11SSL motherboard, we show how remotely exploitable software weaknesses in the BMC (or other processors with PMBus access) can be used to access the PMBus and then perform hardware-based fault injection attacks on the main CPU. The underlying weaknesses include insecure firmware encryption and signing mechanisms, a lack of authentication for the firmware upgrade process and the IPMI KCS control interface, as well as the motherboard design (with the PMBus connected to the BMC and SMBus by default). First, we show that undervolting through the PMBus allows breaking the integrity guarantees of SGX enclaves, bypassing Intel’s countermeasures against previous undervolting attacks like Plundervolt/V0ltPwn. Second, we experimentally show that overvolting outside the specified range has the potential of permanently damaging Intel Xeon CPUs, rendering the server inoperable. We assess the impact of our findings on other server motherboards made by Supermicro and ASRock. Our attacks, dubbed PMFault, can be carried out by a privileged software adversary and do not require physical access to the server motherboard or knowledge of the BMC login credentials. We responsibly disclosed the issues reported in this paper to Supermicro and discuss possible countermeasures at different levels. To the best of our knowledge, the 12th generation of Supermicro motherboards, which was designed before we reported PMFault to Supermicro, is not vulnerable.
Cutting Through the Complexity of Reverse Engineering Embedded Devices 📺
Performing security analysis of embedded devices is a challenging task. They present many difficulties not usually found when analyzing commodity systems: undocumented peripherals, esoteric instruction sets, and limited tool support. Thus, a significant amount of reverse engineering is almost always required to analyze such devices. In this paper, we present Incision, an architecture and operating-system agnostic reverse engineering framework. Incision tackles the problem of reducing the upfront effort to analyze complex end-user devices. It combines static and dynamic analyses in a feedback loop, enabling information from each to be used in tandem to improve our overall understanding of the firmware analyzed. We use Incision to analyze a variety of devices and firmware. Our evaluation spans firmware based on three RTOSes, an automotive ECU, and a 4G/LTE baseband. We demonstrate that Incision does not introduce significant complexity to the standard reverse engineering process and requires little manual effort to use. Moreover, its analyses produce correct results with high confidence and are robust across different OSes and ISAs.