Study Finds Significant Number of Macs Running Out-of-Date Firmware Susceptible to Critical Exploits

A new research paper from Duo Security, shared by Ars Technica, reveals that a significant number of Macs are running out-of-date EFI versions, leaving them susceptible to critical pre-boot firmware exploits.

macos high sierra trio
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

rpmurray Avatar
56 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)
840quadra Avatar
56 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)
chrfr Avatar
56 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)
jayducharme Avatar
56 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)
triptolemus Avatar
56 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)
sos47 Avatar
56 months ago
it hurts me. update to High Sierra not possible. iMac 2011
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

maxresdefault

Review: M1 Max MacBook Pro After Three Months

Wednesday January 19, 2022 11:30 am PST by
It's now been a few months since the M1 Pro and M1 Max MacBook Pro models launched in October, and MacRumors video editor Dan Barbera has been using one of the new machines since they debuted. Over on the MacRumors YouTube channel, Dan has shared a three month review of his MacBook Pro to see how it has held up over time and how it's changed his workflow. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube ...
airpodsinear 1

AirPods Save Woman's Life With Feature Everyone Should Know

Friday January 21, 2022 2:13 am PST by
Apple's AirPods have been credited with saving a woman's life after a potentially fatal fall, People reports. When a 60-year-old florist in New Jersey tripped and hit her head in her studio, she lost consciousness and awoke heavily bleeding. With nobody around to call for help, she realized she had her AirPods in, and used a "Hey Siri" command to call 911. An operator was able to stay on the ...
iphone se 2020 top

New iPhone SE Likely to Launch in April Based on Production Timeframe

Wednesday January 19, 2022 6:44 am PST by
Apple suppliers will begin producing display panels for the third-generation iPhone SE this month, with final assembly of the device likely to start in March, according to information shared by display industry consultant Ross Young. Based on this production timeframe, Young believes the third-generation iPhone SE is likely to launch in the second half of April, or perhaps in early May at...
iphone 13 earpods

Apple to Stop Including EarPods With Every iPhone Sold in France From Next Week

Friday January 21, 2022 3:21 am PST by
Apple will no longer include EarPods with every iPhone sold in France, starting on January 24, according to a notice posted by a French carrier (via iGeneration). Apple was previously required to include EarPods in the box with the iPhone due to a French law that required every smartphone sold in the country to come with a "handsfree kit," but the law has now been changed in favor of reducing the ...
Spring 2022 Apple Products Feature

New iPad Air, Macs, and iPhone SE With 5G Likely to Be Announced at Apple Event This Spring

Thursday January 20, 2022 8:32 am PST by
Earlier this week, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman tweeted that Apple "will be holding a spring event" to announce a new iPhone SE and other hardware. In a recent edition of his newsletter, Gurman said the event is likely to occur in March or April. Gurman did not elaborate on what "other hardware" will be announced at Apple's purported spring event, but rumors suggest at least four products are...
appleeducation

Apple's US Education Store Now Requires Institution Verification to Buy Discounted Products

Wednesday January 19, 2022 2:22 am PST by
Apple is now requiring that customers in the United States verify that they're active students, teachers, or staff members at an educational institution in order to access education discounts on products. Previously, little verification was needed for customers to purchase products through Apple's education store in the United States. Apple's education stores offer models of the iPad and Mac ...
AirPods 3 New Firmware Feature

Apple Updates AirPods 3 Firmware to Version 4C170

Tuesday January 18, 2022 11:46 am PST by
Apple today released a new 4C170 firmware update for the AirPods 3, an update from the prior 4C165 that was made available in December. Apple does not offer details on what's included in new firmware updates for the AirPods‌, so we don't know what improvements or bug fixes the new firmware brings. There is no standard way to upgrade the ‌AirPods‌‌ software, but firmware is...
appleprivacyad cleaned

iOS 15 Patched Security Hole That Potentially Exposed Users' Private Apple ID Information to Third-Party Apps

Thursday January 20, 2022 3:32 am PST by
Apple patched two significant security vulnerabilities when it released iOS 15 that could have potentially exposed users' private Apple ID information and in-app search history to malicious third-party apps and allowed apps to override user Privacy preferences, Apple has revealed in a recent support document update. With most iOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS updates, Apple provides a list of...
apple watch series 7 aluminum colors yellowbg

Apple Watch Charging Bug Fixed in watchOS 8.4 Release Candidate

Thursday January 20, 2022 4:01 pm PST by
The watchOS 8.4 release candidate that was seeded to developers and beta testers this morning addresses an ongoing bug that could cause some Apple Watch chargers not to work properly with the Apple Watch. Back in December, we reported on a growing number of charging issues that Apple Watch Series 7 owners were facing. Since watchOS 8.3, there have been a number of complaints about...