First introduced in Intelâ(TM)s 965 Express Chipset Family, the Intel Management Engine (ME) is a separate computing environment physically located in the (G)MCH chip (for Core 2 family CPUs which is separate from the northbridge), or PCH chip replacing ICH(for Core i3/i5/i7 which is integrated with northbridge).
The ME consists of an individual processor core, code and data caches, a timer, and a secure internal bus to which additional devices are connected, including a cryptography engine, internal ROM and RAM, memory controllers, and a direct memory access (DMA) engine to access the host operating systemâ(TM)s memory as well as to reserve a region of protected external memory to supplement the MEâ(TM)s limited internal RAM. The ME also has network access with its own MAC address through the Intel Gigabit Ethernet Controller integrated in the southbridge (ICH or PCH).
The Intel Management Engine with its proprietary firmware has complete access to and control over the PC: it can power on or shut down the PC, read all open files, examine all running applications, track all keys pressed and mouse movements, and even capture or display images on the screen. And it has a network interface that is demonstrably insecure, which can allow an attacker on the network to inject rootkits that completely compromise the PC and can report to the attacker all activities performed on the PC.
Five or so years ago, Intel rolled out something horrible. Intelâ(TM)s Management Engine (ME) is a completely separate computing environment running on Intel chipsets that has access to everything. The ME has network access, access to the host operating system, memory, and cryptography engine. The ME can be used remotely even if the PC is powered off. If that sounds scary, it gets even worse: no one knows what the ME is doing, and we canâ(TM)t even look at the code. When â” not âifâ(TM) â” the ME is finally cracked open, every computer running on a recent Intel chip will have a huge security and privacy issue. Intelâ(TM)s Management Engine is the single most dangerous piece of computer hardware ever created.