Is the MSI Hack an IT Supply Chain Attack?

Is the MSI Hack an IT Supply Chain Attack?

When I heard of the MSI compromise, I had similar fears of an IT supply chain attack. However, after walking the logic and high-level details I felt that the current attack was unlikely a sophisticated play to compromise downstream consumers of MSI products.

The cybersecurity risk assessment logic:

Although adding a trojan to an update file is easy, firmware exploitation that includes remote telemetry, backdoors, and software surveillance is much more challenging, certainly difficult enough to require significant time, development, and testing resources — something likely a nation-state would be willing to commit and able to accomplish.

A ransomware/data breach of a hardware/firmware organization is a much simpler matter. Compromise the system, exfiltrate the data, and encrypt key data systems. This is the happy domain of cyber criminals looking for a quick payout.

Ransomware activities are loud, brash, and obvious. Whereas if an attacker spent the requisite effort to compromise the firmware with the intent of a supply chain attack, they would want to be as clandestine and stealthy as possible, so victims remain unsuspecting for the longest possible time.

MSI was confronted with ransomware and extortion demands. If we apply Occam’s razor and look at the least complicated scenario, then it seems like they have been victimized by cybercriminals seeking personal financial gain and not a nation-state looking to conduct a sweeping supply chain attack against MSI customers.

Theories are great, but I am really glad the Eclypsium team took a look at the actuary low-level data to confirm. See their report at https://eclypsium.com/blog/msi-incident-part-2-binary-analysis/

But now that nation-states have access to MSI data, it seems like a great opportunity for them to explore if they could accomplish a supply-chain attack that meets their objectives. The exposure of MSI data has enabled more serious attackers. I fear this story is not over. If an aggressive nation chooses to develop a sophisticated exploit, the customers of MSI may be in real trouble!

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CISO and Cybersecurity Strategist

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