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What is Firmware, and Why is it the Backbone of Modern Technology?

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PUREVPNOnline SecurityWhat is Firmware, and Why is it the Backbone of Modern Technology?

Imagine a world without firmware. Your PC wouldn’t start up, your cell phone wouldn’t make a call, and your car would not start. Firmware is the invisible maestro that makes all of our electronic gadgets work.

But what is Firmware? And why is it so crucial?

Firmware is a software program embedded in PCs or other digital gadgets and appliances. In this article, we’ll learn more about firmware and why it is the backbone of advanced technology. 

what is firmware

What is Firmware?

Firmware is software that is embedded inside hardware gadgets. It bridges between a device’s hardware system and the higher-level software programs that run on it. 

Unlike ordinary software, firmware isn’t intended to be regularly updated or changed by the user. Instead, it’s designed as a solid and crucial element of the device’s operation.

A common firmware example is a laptop’s BIOS (Basic Input/Output System). When you power your computer, the BIOS firmware initializes the hardware system, analyzes a series of checks, and ultimately loads the operating system.

Without this firmware, your computer might no longer be able to start or run any software program. 

Firmware exists in multiple devices like computer systems, smartphones, game consoles, smart appliances, and commercial systems, ensuring proper capability and verbal exchange with other software program structures.

What are the different types of Firmware?

There are many distinct types of firmware. However, they could usually be shrunk into three classes based totally on the level of hardware integration:

Low-Level Firmware

This firmware is used as an intrinsic part of a device’s hardware. It is usually saved on non-volatile storage chips like ROM and can not be rewritten or updated.

Low-level firmware initializes the hardware and supplies a simple functionality stage. For example, a PC’s BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) is low-level firmware.

High-Level Firmware 

This firmware is stored on flash storage chips and may be rewritten or updated. High-Level Firmware is usually more complicated than Low-Level Firmware and presents extra advanced functionality.

For example, the operating device of a smartphone is a type of High-Level Firmware.

Subsystem Firmware

This firmware is frequently used to govern particular subsystems within a device. For instance, the firmware for a graphic card or a hard drive is a subsystem firmware.

Common Examples of Firmware

Here are some examples of particular kinds of firmware:

BIOS

The BIOS is the firmware that initializes the hardware and uploads the operating system on a PC.

Unified Extensible Firmware Interface

UEFI is a new Firmware that replaces many computer systems’ BIOS. UEFI offers an extra advanced and compatible interface for the operating system.

Operating System

The operating system is the high-level firmware that offers the user interface and manages the sources of a PC.

Device Driver

Device drivers are softwares that allow the operating system to interact with specific hardware systems. Device drivers are usually a kind of firmware.

Embedded firmware

Embedded firmware operates various gadgets, smartphones, tablets, TVs, routers, and cars.

Microcode

Microcode is a low-level firmware used to implement a CPU’s Instruction Set Architecture (ISA).

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How to Update Firmware

Updating firmware is critical to keep your devices and software program efficient, ensuring they work correctly and securely. Here’s a manual on a way to update firmware:

  1. Determine which device or software program you need to update. Firmware updates can apply to gadgets like routers, smartphones, computer peripherals, etc.
  1. Visit the Manufacturer’s website of your device or software. Look for a way to download upgrades. Manufacturers frequently provide firmware updates alongside new features and release notes.
  1. Before downloading any updates, read the Release Notes or procedure provided by the manufacturer. This report highlights what modifications or improvements the update brings.
  1. Download the firmware update file. Make sure to download the accurate version for your specific device or model. If you need more clarification, consult the producer’s documentation or help.
  1. For gadgets like smartphones or computer systems, it’s clever to back up your data before performing firmware updates. Sometimes, updates can cause problems that require a device reset.
  1. Follow the manufacturer’s guide for updating the firmware. For some, it is as simple as strolling an executable document or copying files to a particular location. Others may additionally require a more thorough process.
  1. After updating the firmware, restart or reboot your device if needed. This step is critical for the adjustments to take impact.
  1. Once your device has restarted, look at it to ensure that it’s operating successfully and that any troubles addressed inside the replacement have been resolved.
  1. If you encounter any issues in the update steps or have questions, consult the device or software program manufacturer’s support. They can often provide guidance or help.

Why Do Organizations Need Firmware Updates?

Organizations require firmware updates for several reasons:

For a Secure Infrastructure

Firmware updates are necessary to patch security vulnerabilities, making them critical for preserving a stable infrastructure. Without regular updates, organizations are prone to cyberattacks that exploit potential vulnerabilities in their firmware.

For a High-Quality Performance

Firmware updates can enhance the performance and stability of gadgets, leading to high-quality productivity and user experience. These updates may prevent trojan horse errors, optimizations, and new functions that improve the device’s capability.

To make their systems more compatible

As new hardware and software are released, firmware updates may be necessary to ensure compatibility with the trendy technologies. With those updates, organizations may also be able to integrate new gadgets or software into their current infrastructure.

Some industries have guidelines and requirements requiring regular firmware updates to keep compliance. By staying updated with firmware updates, corporations can avoid potential penalties and ensure they meet the essential requirements.

Open-Source Flexibility

Organizations might adopt an open-source technique for firmware updates and development in a few instances. 

This gives them extra control over the update method and creates a more standardized manner of dealing with their firmware, which may be helpful for specific needs and necessities.

What do you mean by Firmware Security? Why is it challenging for cyber attacks?

Firmware security is the protection of the software program placed on a hardware system’s permanent memory (firmware) from unauthorized access for changes or attacks.

Firmware performs a vital role in the functionality and protection of many gadgets, including computers, smartphones, routers, IoT devices, etc. However, to ensure firmware security, here are several situations:

To Prevent Unwanted Visitors to Access Your System

Attackers might also try to gain unauthorized access to the firmware by exploiting vulnerabilities or weaknesses in the device’s security mechanisms. Once found, they can control the firmware for malicious functions.

Malware and Rootkits

Malicious actors can install malware or rootkits in firmware to keep it hidden and stay secure from detection. These hidden threats can compromise the device’s integrity and protection.

Already Corrupted System Manufacturing Process

Firmware may be prone to attacks in the manufacturing or supply chain method at some stage. If attackers compromise the firmware before it is installed on a device, it could lead to massive security issues.

Patch Management

Keeping firmware updated with security patches is challenging, as many devices need automatic update mechanisms. Users won’t be aware of available updates, leaving devices vulnerable to known exploits.

19’s Version of Device 

Manufacturers may discontinue supporting older device versions, leaving them without security updates. This can be a hassle for gadgets with long lifespans, like business control systems and scientific devices.

Reverse Engineering

Attackers may additionally reverse engineer firmware to discover vulnerabilities or weaknesses. These statistics can then be used to create exploits or gain unauthorized entry into your system.

The Increase in Internet of Things Devices

The advancement of IoT gadgets presents challenges, as a lot of these devices have digital assets and may not be designed with robust safety features. Securing firmware in IoT devices is important to save you from bigger damage.

Complexity

Firmware can be complicated and include diverse components and layers, making it hard to comprehensively discover and address safety problems.

How Firmware Attacks Are Carried Out

Firmware attacks are accomplished through numerous techniques that target the software inside hardware gadgets’ non-volatile memory. These attacks will have serious implications, compromising tool functionality, data security, or user privacy. 

Here are some common strategies used to perform firmware attacks:

Phishing and Social Engineering

Attackers use phishing emails or social engineering processes to trick users into installing malicious firmware updates. Unaware customers may also unknowingly compromise their gadgets.

Malware Injection

Attackers inject malicious code or malware into the firmware. Once the device is compromised, this malware can execute many malicious activities, along with stealing information, spying on users, or facilitating similar assaults.

trickbot killchain

Brute-Force Attacks

Attackers attempt to gain unauthorized access to firmware by using brute-force methods to wager login credentials or encryption keys. This is frequently effective with weak or default passwords in use.

Physical Attacks

In a few cases, attackers gain physical access to a device and flash the firmware with malicious versions. Physical attacks can be brutal to prevent; however, they are mostly rare in comparison to remote attacks.

Zero-Day Vulnerabilities

Attackers may additionally discover and take advantage of zero-day vulnerabilities in firmware security flaws, which can be unknown to the device manufacturer and have no available patches.

Is Firmware a virus?

No, firmware is not a virus. Firmware is a sort of software program that is completely stored on hardware devices to control their fundamental operations. It serves as a bridge between the hardware and the high-level software, permitting the device to work efficiently. 

Firmware is vital for the normal operation of gadgets like smartphones, routers, printers, and more. 

Unlike viruses or malware, which can be malicious software applications designed to damage or compromise a device, firmware is created by the device manufacturer and is supposed to facilitate the tool’s intended functions.

What are the Devices with Firmware?

Here are a few examples of gadgets that depend upon firmware to function properly:

  • USB drives and Hard drives
  • Mobile devices
  • Motherboards
  • Printers, routers, and scanners
  • Television remotes
  • Embedded structures
  • Automobiles
  • Servers 

The Difference between Firmware and Software

CharacteristicFirmwareSoftware
DefinitionA type of software that is embedded in an electronic device and provides basic functionality.Any program or application that runs on a computer or other electronic device.
LocationTypically stored in non-volatile memory, like ROM or flash memory.Typically stored on a hard drive or other removable storage device.
UpdatabilityNot typically updated by the user.It can be updated by the user.
Examplesare BIOS, the operating system of a smartphone, or other network device, firmware on a car’s ECU, firmware on a microwave ovenWord processing software, spreadsheet software, web browser, video game, operating system

Securing your Firmware with Virtual Private Network

A VPN assists you to secure your firmware by encrypting website traffic between your device and the VPN server. 

This can assist in protecting your device from malware and other threats that can attempt to take advantage of vulnerabilities in your firmware.

To use a VPN to secure your firmware, you may need to:

  1. Choose a reputable VPN like PureVPN.
  2. Install the VPN app in your system.
  3. Connect to a VPN server.
  4. Once you are connected to the VPN, all traffic between your device and the VPN server will be encrypted.

It is essential to observe that all VPNs are not the same. Some VPNs might not provide the same level of security as others. It is important to pick out a VPN server that offers sturdy encryption, like AES 256-bits.

Here are a few extra pointers for securing your firmware with a VPN:

  • Use a strong password on your VPN account.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) on your VPN account.
  • Keep your VPN app updated.
  • Ensure your VPN has no log policy.
  • Don’t use free VPNs, as they are not reliable.

What happens if you delete firmware?

Deleting firmware from a system may have excessive outcomes and make the tool inoperable. Firmware is an important software program that controls the fundamental features and behaviors of hardware systems.

Moreover, deleting firmware might basically disable the device from its running instructions, making it incapable of performing any responsibilities or functions. 

Firmware: The Code That Makes It All Work

Firmware is an essential software program embedded in hardware gadgets, bridging the communication between hardware and high-level software programs. It ensures proper device functionality. 

However, firmware safety is essential because of the potential vulnerabilities. Firmware plays a critical function in the performance and safety of modern interconnected devices. It’s better to keep it updated for secure production.

author

Anas Hasan

date

September 28, 2023

time

9 months ago

Anas Hassan is a tech geek and cybersecurity enthusiast. He has a vast experience in the field of digital transformation industry. When Anas isn’t blogging, he watches the football games.

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