Hardware-enhanced security refers to a set of technologies built into a computer’s hardware. These technologies interface with ISV and OEM solutions to improve security by hardening below-the-OS processes against attacks and improving the detection capabilities of anti-malware software running above the OS.

Here’s why you need hardware-enhanced security.
A quick glance at headlines over the past couple of years reveals a clear trend—attackers are innovating as adeptly as any legitimate tech whiz, with cybercrime attacks growing in number and sophistication.1 Well-established threat techniques, such as phishing and ransomware, continue to open doors to hackers.

At the same time, the attack surface has grown. The global surge in employees working from home since March 2020 leaves systems vulnerable outside the protection of the corporate firewall. IBM discovered that costs of a data breach hit a record high during the pandemic; remote work due to COVID-19 raised average costs of more than $1 million higher due to breaches where remote work was a factor in causing the breach itself.2

Hackers shutting down a major U.S. gas supply chain in May 2021 grabbed attention of public officials and Security Operations Centers, but equally concerning were other ransomware groups operating under similar models. Worldwide, McAfee Labs observed over 600 threats per minute in Q1 2021,3 which is an increase of 40 threats/minute compared to the last quarter of 2020.

Among the most common and dangerous strains are control-flow hijacking, in which attackers seize control of legitimate program execution and deploy malicious code; ransomware, which blocks access to files, systems, networks and data until a ransom is paid; and crypto-jacking, which involves unauthorized, malicious, and silent use of someone else’s computer to mine cryptocurrency.

As if the evolving threat landscape isn’t complex enough, hackers are now turning to attacks below the operating system (OS). This raises the stakes considerably. an organization’s valuable infrastructure at the root level with nefarious, advanced technical capabilities is connected to both cybercrime and espionage. There are already clearly defined root-level attacks, such as rootkits, an OS-level breach that enables unauthorized users to gain control of a computer system without being detected.

Bootkits are an even more malicious extension of rootkits. They infect early in the boot process, controlling all stages of the OS startup by modifying system code and drivers–before anti-virus and other security components are even loaded.

All this activity is adding up. Gartner reports that by 2022, 70 percent of organizations that don’t have a firmware upgrade plan in place will be breached due to a firmware vulnerability.4

The roadmap to a more secure way forward is obvious–it’s time to toughen up your security posture to combat ever-expanding cybercrime, starting at the hardware level.

Until recently, CIOs could plan and define their cybersecurity strategies separately from their client-PC purchasing decisions, but that’s no longer the case.

Why? Because the harsh new reality is that malware attackers already know that breaches occurring below the OS are typically undetectable to security applications that run above the OS. It’s a serious challenge that demands a holistic approach to building security from chip to cloud across hardware, firmware, and the OS.

Leveling up your security stance with hardware-enhanced protection
A hardware-enhanced security strategy delivers a critical layer of protection to applications, data, and the entire system. Today’s well-prepared organizations have built a solid defensive model that’s rooted in hardware. Look for shields that help your OS provide a more accurate assessment of device security, with features that improve access management by protecting end-user data from unauthorized access, while protecting from firmware-based attacks like rootkits and bootkits.

Additional security solutions rooted in hardware can be deployed to improve ransomware and crypto mining detection and remediation.

Your hardware must adequately defend against tampering and attest to its integrity. With an established chain of trust, authenticated firmware must adequately protect the OS and hypervisor over and beyond halting unauthorized access. Only then does your enterprise software have a fighting chance to defend the OS and the applications that run on top of it.

Unfortunately, the ever-expanding cybercrime threat is here to stay. Although there’s no turning the tide, it’s possible to safeguard the enterprise starting with a universal cyber defense that incorporates hardware-enhanced protection to secure hardware platforms, from the root level on up.

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1,3 McAfee. “McAfee Labs Threats Report.” June 2021. McAfee Labs Threats Report | June 2021.
2 IBM. “Cost of a Data Breach Report 2021.” July 2021. IBM Report: Cost of a Data Breach Hits Record High During Pandemic.
4 Eclypsium. “Device Risk Assessment and Patching.” https://eclypsium.com/risk-assessment/.