New to CAPEC? Start Here
Home > CAPEC List > CAPEC-638: Altered Component Firmware (Version 3.9)  

CAPEC-638: Altered Component Firmware

Attack Pattern ID: 638
Abstraction: Detailed
View customized information:
+ Description
An adversary exploits systems features and/or improperly protected firmware of hardware components, such as Hard Disk Drives (HDD), with the goal of executing malicious code from within the component's Master Boot Record (MBR). Conducting this type of attack entails the adversary infecting the target with firmware altering malware, using known tools, and a payload. Once this malware is executed, the MBR is modified to include instructions to execute the payload at desired intervals and when the system is booted up. A successful attack will obtain persistence within the victim system even if the operating system is reinstalled and/or if the component is formatted or has its data erased.
+ Likelihood Of Attack


+ Typical Severity

Very High

+ Relationships
Section HelpThis table shows the other attack patterns and high level categories that are related to this attack pattern. These relationships are defined as ChildOf and ParentOf, and give insight to similar items that may exist at higher and lower levels of abstraction. In addition, relationships such as CanFollow, PeerOf, and CanAlsoBe are defined to show similar attack patterns that the user may want to explore.
ChildOfStandard Attack PatternStandard Attack Pattern - A standard level attack pattern in CAPEC is focused on a specific methodology or technique used in an attack. It is often seen as a singular piece of a fully executed attack. A standard attack pattern is meant to provide sufficient details to understand the specific technique and how it attempts to accomplish a desired goal. A standard level attack pattern is a specific type of a more abstract meta level attack pattern.452Infected Hardware
Section HelpThis table shows the views that this attack pattern belongs to and top level categories within that view.
+ Execution Flow
  1. Select Target: The adversary searches for a suitable target to attack, such as government and/or private industry organizations.

    Conduct reconnaissance to determine potential targets to exploit.
  2. Identify Components: After selecting a target, the adversary determines whether a vulnerable component, such as a specific make and model of a HDD, is contained within the target system.

    [Remote Access Vector] The adversary gains remote access to the target, typically via additional malware, and explores the system to determine hardware components that are being leveraged.
    [Physical Access Vector] The adversary intercepts components in transit and determines if the component is vulnerable to attack.
  1. Optional: Create Payload: If not using an already existing payload, the adversary creates their own to be executed at defined intervals and upon system boot processes. This payload may then be tested on the target system or a test system to confirm its functionality.

  1. Insert Firmware Altering Malware: Once a vulnerable component has been identified, the adversary leverages known malware tools to infect the component's firmware and drop the payload within the component's MBR. This allows the adversary to maintain persistence on the target and execute the payload without being detected.

    The adversary inserts the firmware altering malware on the target component, via the use of known malware tools.
    [Physical Access Vector] The adversary then sends the component to its original intended destination, where it will be installed onto a victim system.
+ Prerequisites
Advanced knowledge about the target component's firmware
Advanced knowledge about Master Boot Records (MBR)
Advanced knowledge about tools used to insert firmware altering malware.
Advanced knowledge about component shipments to the target organization.
+ Skills Required
[Level: High]
Ability to access and reverse engineer hardware component firmware.
[Level: High]
Ability to intercept components in transit.
[Level: Medium]
Ability to create malicious payload to be executed from MBR.
[Level: Low]
Ability to leverage known malware tools to infect target system and insert firmware altering malware/payload
+ Resources Required
Manufacturer source code for hardware components.
Malware tools used to insert malware and payload onto target component.
Either remote or physical access to the target component.
+ Indicators
Output observed from processes, API calls, or Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology (SMART) may provide insight into malicious modifications of MBRs.
Digital forensics tools may produce output that indicates an attack of this nature has occurred. Examples include unexpected disk partitions and/or unusual strings.
+ Consequences
Section HelpThis table specifies different individual consequences associated with the attack pattern. The Scope identifies the security property that is violated, while the Impact describes the negative technical impact that arises if an adversary succeeds in their attack. The Likelihood provides information about how likely the specific consequence is expected to be seen relative to the other consequences in the list. For example, there may be high likelihood that a pattern will be used to achieve a certain impact, but a low likelihood that it will be exploited to achieve a different impact.
Gain Privileges
Execute Unauthorized Commands
Bypass Protection Mechanism
Hide Activities
Access Control
Read Data
Modify Data
+ Mitigations
Leverage hardware components known to not be susceptible to these types of attacks.
Implement hardware RAID infrastructure.
+ Example Instances
In 2014, the Equation group was observed levering known malware tools to conduct component firmware alteration attacks against hard drives. In total, 12 HDD categories were shown to be vulnerable from manufacturers such as Western Digital, HGST, Samsung, and Seagate. Because of their complexity, only a few victims were targeted by these attacks. [REF-664]
+ Taxonomy Mappings
Section HelpCAPEC mappings to ATT&CK techniques leverage an inheritance model to streamline and minimize direct CAPEC/ATT&CK mappings. Inheritance of a mapping is indicated by text stating that the parent CAPEC has relevant ATT&CK mappings. Note that the ATT&CK Enterprise Framework does not use an inheritance model as part of the mapping to CAPEC.
Relevant to the ATT&CK taxonomy mapping
Entry IDEntry Name
1542.002Pre-OS Boot:Component Firmware
+ References
[REF-664] "EQUATION GROUP: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS". 1.5. Kaspersky Lab HQ. 2015-02. <>. URL validated: 2021-06-23.
[REF-665] Preston Hood. "Hard Drive Firmware Implant IRATEMONK". PJHoodsCo Blog. 2014-10-26. <>. URL validated: 2021-06-23.
[REF-666] Bruce Schneier. "IRATEMONK: NSA Exploit of the Day". Schneier on Security. 2014-01-31. <>. URL validated: 2021-06-23.
+ Content History
Submission DateSubmitterOrganization
(Version 2.12)
CAPEC Content Team
Modification DateModifierOrganization
(Version 3.3)
CAPEC Content TeamThe MITRE Corporation
Updated Taxonomy_Mappings
(Version 3.5)
CAPEC Content TeamThe MITRE Corporation
Updated Consequences, Description, Example_Instances, Execution_Flow, Indicators, Mitigations, Prerequisites, References, Resources_Required, Skills_Required, Typical_Severity
More information is available — Please select a different filter.
Page Last Updated or Reviewed: July 31, 2018