[EN] Keylogger in Hewlett-Packard Audio Driver

Eine Deutsche Version befindet sich hier – German version right here

Security reviews of modern Windows Active Domain infrastructures are – from our point of view – quite sobering. Therefore, we often look left and right, when, for example, examining the hardening of protection mechanisms of a workstation. Here, we often find all sorts of dangerous and ill-conceived stuff. We want to present one of these casually identified cases now, as it's quite an interesting one: We have discovered a keylogger in an audio driver package by Hewlett-Packard.

A keylogger is a piece of software for which the case of dual-use can rarely be claimed. This means there are very few situations where you would describe a keylogger that records all keystrokes as 'well-intended'. A keylogger records when a key is pressed, when it is released, and whether any shift or special keys have been pressed. It is also recorded if, for example, a password is entered even if it is not displayed on the screen.

So what's the point of a keylogger in an audio driver? Does HP deliver pre-installed spyware? Is HP itself a victim of a backdoored software that third-party vendors have developed on behalf of HP? The responsibility in this case is uncertain, because the software is offered by HP as a driver package for their own devices on their website. On the other hand, the software was developed and digitally signed by the audio chip manufacturer Conexant.

Conexant is a manufacturer of integrated circuits, emerging from a US armaments manufacturer. Primarily, they develop circuits in the field of video and audio processing. Thus, it is not uncommon for Conexant audio ICs to be populated on the sound cards of computers of various manufacturers. Conexant also develops drivers for its audio chips, so that the operating system is able to communicate with the hardware. Apparently, there are some parts for the control of the audio hardware, which are very specific and depend on the computer model - for example special keys for turning on or off a microphone or controlling the recording LED on the computer. In this code, which seems to be tailored to HP computers, there is a part that intercepts and processes all keyboard input.

Actually, the purpose of the software is to recognize whether a special key has been pressed or released. Instead, however, the developer has introduced a number of diagnostic and debugging features to ensure that all keystrokes are either broadcasted through a debugging interface or written to a log file in a public directory on the hard-drive.

This type of debugging turns the audio driver effectively into a keylogging spyware. On the basis of meta-information of the files, this keylogger has already existed on HP computers since at least Christmas 2015.

Verifying: MicTray64.exe
Signature Index: 0 (Primary Signature)
Hash of file (sha1): 3FE5F7704DF5989717A029BC3DA99527373797D2
Signing Certificate Chain:
            Issued to: Conexant Systems, Inc.
            Issued by: VeriSign Class 3 Code Signing 2010 CA
            Expires:   Mon Jul 03 01:59:59 2017
            SHA1 hash: 505507C3221B63E658D197E75EAEE0D3BC100F6C
The signature is timestamped: Thu Dec 24 10:07:19 2015
Timestamp Verified by:
    Issued to: Thawte Timestamping CA
    Issued by: Thawte Timestamping CA
    Expires:   Fri Jan 01 01:59:59 2021
    SHA1 hash: BE36A4562FB2EE05DBB3D32323ADF445084ED656

Version of this program was later extended by even more problematic functions: The most recent version implements the logging of all keystrokes into the publicly for any user readable file C:\Users\Public\MicTray.log. Although the file is overwritten after each login, the content is likely to be easily monitored by running processes or forensic tools. If you regularly make incremental backups of your hard-drive - whether in the cloud or on an external hard-drive – a history of all keystrokes of the last few years could probably be found in your backups.

There is no evidence that this keylogger has been intentionally implemented. Obviously, it is a negligence of the developers - which makes the software no less harmful. If the developer would just disable all logging, using debug-logs only in the development environment, there wouldn't be problems with the confidentiality of the data of any user.

Neither HP Inc. nor Conexant Systems Inc. have responded to any contact requests. Only HP Enterprise (HPE) refused any responsibility, and sought contacts at HP Inc. through internal channels.

Therefore, we are now publishing this information in accordance with our Responsible Disclosure process, even if the HP and Conexant issues are neither confirmed nor corrected by the affected vendors.

All users of HP computers should check whether the program C:\Windows\System32\MicTray64.exe or C:\Windows\System32\MicTray.exe is installed. We recommend that you delete or rename the executable files so that no keystrokes are recorded anymore. However, the special function keys on the keyboards might no longer work as expected. If a C:\Users\Public\MicTray.log file exists on the hard-drive, it should also be deleted immediately, as it can contain a lot of sensitive information such as login-information and passwords.

The exact technical details and documents can be found in our Security Advisory https://www.modzero.ch/advisories/MZ-17-01-Conexant-Keylogger.txt.

Posted by Thorsten Schroeder | Permanent link | File under: security, re, advisory