Study Finds Significant Number of Macs Running Out-of-Date Firmware Susceptible to Critical Exploits

A new research paper from Duo Security, shared by Ars Technica, reveals that a significant number of Macs are running out-of-date EFI versions, leaving them susceptible to critical pre-boot firmware exploits.


The security firm analyzed 73,324 Macs used in production environments and found that, on average, 4.2 percent of the systems were running the incorrect EFI version relative to the model and version of macOS or OS X installed.

The percentage of incorrect EFI versions varies greatly depending on the model. The late 2015 21.5" iMac had the highest occurrence of incorrect EFI firmware, with 43 percent of systems running incorrect versions.

EFI, which stands for Extensible Firmware Interface, bridges a Mac's hardware, firmware, and operating system together to enable it to go from power-on to booting macOS. EFI operates at a lower level than both the operating system and hypervisors, providing attackers with a greater level of control.

Successful attack of a system's UEFI implementation provides an attacker with powerful capabilities in terms of stealth, persistence, and direct access to hardware, all in an OS and VMM independent manner.

Duo Security found that 47 models capable of running OS X Yosemite, OS X El Capitan, or macOS Sierra, for example, did not have an EFI security patch for the Thunderstrike exploit publicly disclosed nearly three years ago.

The research paper noted that there seems to be something interfering with the way bundled EFI updates are installed alongside macOS, while some Macs never received EFI updates whatsoever, but it doesn't know exactly why.

There seems to be something interfering with the way bundled EFI firmware updates are getting installed, leading to systems running old EFI versions. We are not able to give an exact reason why, but there are significant discrepancies between the firmware version that is actually running on real world production systems and the version that is expected to be running, given the OS build. This means that even if your Mac is still receiving security patch support, there is a non-trivial chance that your system is not running the latest version, even though you thought it was installed.

While its research paper is focused on Apple, Duo Security said the same if not worse EFI issues likely affect PCs running Windows or Linux.

In response to the research paper, Apple said it appreciates the research on the industry-wide issue and noted that macOS High Sierra automatically validates a Mac's EFI on a weekly basis to ensure it hasn't been tampered with.

We appreciate Duo's work on this industry-wide issue and noting Apple’s leading approach to this challenge. Apple continues to work diligently in the area of firmware security and we’re always exploring ways to make our systems even more secure. In order to provide a safer and more secure experience in this area, macOS High Sierra automatically validates Mac firmware weekly.

In a related blog post, Duo Security said users should check if they are running the latest version of EFI on their Macs, and it has released a tool to help do so. It also recommends updating to the latest version of macOS High Sierra.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
36 months ago
In response to the research paper, Apple said it appreciates the research on the industry-wide issue and noted that ONLY macOS High Sierra automatically validates a Mac's EFI ('https://www.macrumors.com/2017/09/25/macos-high-sierra-weekly-efi-security-check/') on a weekly basis to ensure it hasn't been tampered with. Anyone running Macs with an earlier OS (like Sierra or the ancient El Capitan) or a Mac that can't be updated to run High Sierra are SOL.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
36 months ago

4.2% huh, I imagine most of those are in fact Hackintoshes, which are modified EFI to begin with.... I wonder what percent it would be if those were excluded?

I am not sure how many Hackintoshes are in production environments though. It appears that they did this study directly, not using web metrics.

I am sure there are some hackintosh computers being used commercially, though I would expect they would be excluded from such a study. Nevermind completely illegal, exposing those companies to potentially serious lawsuits.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
36 months ago

4.2% huh, I imagine most of those are in fact Hackintoshes, which are modified EFI to begin with.... I wonder what percent it would be if those were excluded?

If you read through the paper, you'll see that these are not Hackintoshes. The guys who wrote this paper are well aware of the details.
[doublepost=1506697970][/doublepost]

This is an old research. I just found out that even when you have the most up to date firmware you still doomed. :D

No, this isn't old.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
36 months ago

Buy a Mac they said...

Macs can’t get viruses they said...

Well, technically they still can't, not in the way PCs do. But they're still a computer susceptible to hacking.

This discovery gives yet another good reason for always updating your Mac to the latest OS (if your hardware supports it, obviously). Sometimes Apple patches problems before we even know they exist.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
36 months ago
Can someone explain to me why it's a good idea to download a tool that interacts with the EFI firmware from a third party off of something called Github?
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
36 months ago
it hurts me. update to High Sierra not possible. iMac 2011
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Apple Officially Obsoletes First MacBook Pro With a Retina Display

Wednesday July 1, 2020 3:40 am PDT by
As expected, Apple's first MacBook Pro with a Retina display is now officially classed as "obsolete" worldwide, just over eight years after its release. In a support document, Apple notes that obsolete products are no longer eligible for hardware service, with "no exceptions." This means that any mid-2012 Retina MacBook Pro 15-inch models still out there that require a battery or other...

New Mac Ransomware Found in Pirated Mac Apps

Tuesday June 30, 2020 11:44 am PDT by
There's a new 'EvilQuest' Mac ransomware variant that's spreading through pirated Mac apps, according to a new report shared today by Malwarebytes. The new ransomware was found in pirated download for the Little Snitch app found on a Russian forum. Right from the point of download, it was clear that something was wrong with the illicit version of Little Snitch, as it had a generic installer...

Unreleased iMac With 10-Core Comet Lake-S Chip and Radeon Pro 5300 GPU Shows Up in Geekbench

Wednesday July 1, 2020 10:48 am PDT by
Benchmarks for an unreleased iMac equipped with a 10th-generation Core i9 Intel Comet Lake-S chip and an AMD Radeon Pro 5300 graphics card have surfaced, giving us an idea of what we can expect from a refreshed 2020 iMac. The Geekbench benchmarks, which appear to be legit, were found on Twitter and shared this morning by Tom's Hardware. The iMac in the benchmarks would be a successor to the...

Leaker: Future iPhone Models to Come in 'Exquisite' Thinner Box

Wednesday July 1, 2020 1:57 am PDT by
Leaker L0vetodream this morning posted a tweet corroborating recent rumors that Apple's "iPhone 12" lineup won't come with EarPods or a charger in the box, adding that this will also eventually apply to the existing second-generation iPhone SE. L0vetodream also claims that future iPhone packaging will be "thinner" and "exquisite," which would make sense if Apple's handsets are set to come in ...

Apple's A12Z Under Rosetta Outperforms Microsoft's Native Arm-Based Surface Pro X

Monday June 29, 2020 10:31 am PDT by
Apple's Developer Transition Kit equipped with an A12Z iPad Pro chip began arriving in the hands of developers this morning to help them get their apps ready for Macs running Apple Silicon, and though forbidden, the first thing some developers did was benchmark the machine. Multiple Geekbench results have indicated that the Developer Transition Kit, which is a Mac mini with an iPad Pro chip, ...

Kuo: iPhone 12 Models Won't Include Charger in Box, 20W Power Adapter Will Be Sold Separately

Sunday June 28, 2020 7:56 am PDT by
iPhone 12 models will not include EarPods or a power adapter in the box, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said today in a research note obtained by MacRumors. This lines up with a prediction shared by analysts at Barclays earlier this week. Kuo said that Apple will instead release a new 20W power adapter as an optional accessory for iPhones and end production of its existing 5W and 18W power adapters...

Rosetta 2 Benchmarks Surface From Mac Mini With A12Z Chip

Monday June 29, 2020 7:48 am PDT by
While the terms and conditions for Apple's new "Developer Transition Kit" forbid developers from running benchmarks on the modified Mac mini with an A12Z chip, it appears that results are beginning to surface anyhow. Image Credit: Radek Pietruszewski Geekbench results uploaded so far suggest that the A12Z-based Mac mini has average single-core and multi-core scores of 811 and 2,781...

Display Analyst Once Again Says No 120Hz ProMotion Display Coming to iPhone 12 Pro

Wednesday July 1, 2020 11:29 am PDT by
Apple's iPhone 12 models will not feature an upgraded 120Hz ProMotion display, according to display analyst Ross Young. Young previously said that Apple would not implement ProMotion technology until it adopted low-power LTPO display technology, a move Apple is not expected to make until 2021. In a tweet shared this morning, Young said that the none of his contacts have been able to...

Apple Seeds Third Betas of iOS and iPadOS 13.6 to Developers [Update: Public Beta Available]

Tuesday June 30, 2020 10:06 am PDT by
Apple today seeded the third betas of upcoming iOS and iPadOS 13.6 updates to developers, three weeks after seeding the second betas and over a month after releasing iOS/iPadOS 13.5 with Exposure Notification API, Face ID updates, Group FaceTime changes, and more. iOS and iPadOS 13.6 can be downloaded from the Apple Developer Center or over the air once the proper developer profile has been...

The New York Times Ends Apple News Partnership and Pulls All Articles

Monday June 29, 2020 11:17 am PDT by
The New York Times today announced that it is pulling out of Apple News, as the service does not "align with its strategy of building direct relationships with paying readers." Starting today, articles from The New York Times will no longer show up in the Apple News app. The news site says that Apple has given it "little in the way of direct relationships with readers" and "little control...