Editorials

MINIX On Intel CPUs

Intel CPUs have a proprietary operating system built into the chip in recent years. This OS is based on the open systems MINIX version of Linux, and is embedded in the CPU, where you have zero interaction or access. What is it doing, and why should you care?

The purpose of the MINIX OS on the Intel CPU is to provide management capabilities to Intel. Because this operating system always runs it enables Intel to provide management capabilities for any computer using an Intel chip. For example, upgrades to a compute may be performed through this internal OS without even having a user operating system running. MINIX is enabled during the boot process of the computer, granting many low level capabilities.

This can be a really cool feature. So, why should you care? The short answer is Security. There is a lot of buzz on the net about this hidden OS Google is one of the big players requiring it be disabled. The reasons are pretty obvious. In order for the hidden OS to have a meaningful purpose it enables a lot of features:

  • Networking
  • File System Access
  • Web Server
  • Drivers for Hardware Components

I found a lot of details about this embedded OS at https://www.networkworld.com/article/3236064/servers/minix-the-most-popular-os-in-the-world-thanks-to-intel.html.

Other people have been trying to disable the MINIX capability themselves. Some have found a setting that can be configured to disable MINIX. I don’t know if the setting disables MINIX completely because it is said to be involved in the boot process of the computer. I found some information on disabling it here: https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/hardware/intels-secret-cpu-on-chip-management-engine-me-runs-on-minix-os/. It also gives a little information from the creators of MINIX, and some interaction they had with Intel.

Can you imagine a hack that can leverage the capabilities of the Intel OS?

Cheers,

Ben

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