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Security researchers find several high-risk bloatware bugs on popular laptops

HP Elite X3
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends
Laptops made by five of the world’s biggest computer manufacturers are vulnerable to dangerous hacking thanks to flawed pre-installed software.

Security firm Duo Security has today published a new report from its Duo Labs division into pre-installed software, or bloatware, on laptops made by HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer. The security issues found with these original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are mostly rooted in buggy updater software for pre-installed programs.

The full report found that none of the vendors took proper care in delivering software updates via a secure HTTPS line. This made it easier for would-be attackers to intercept traffic, gain access to users’ systems, and even take over computers. For example, in the report, Duo Labs stated that HP and Dell “often transmitted” files over HTTPS but Asus and Acer did not.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

In the study, the researchers found a number of other security flaws specific to each OEM that could lead to arbitrary code execution, permitting the takeover of a computer.

HP had two such vulnerabilities, which Duo Labs dubbed high risk, as well five medium-to-low-risk flaws. Asus and Lenovo had one high-risk bug each and Acer had two. Dell on the other was found to have one high-risk certificate flaw.

In the case of Asus, the researchers claimed that they were able to take over a computer manufactured by the company in less than 10 minutes.

According to the Duo Labs researchers, by allowing a range of pre-installed software onto their systems before they ship, OEMs struggle to double-check the security of each little piece of software.

Before publishing its research today, Duo Labs contacted or attempted to contact the five companies involved. The research was conducted between October 2015 and April of this year.

“Updaters are an obvious target for a network attacker, this is a no-brainer. There have been plenty of attacks published against updaters and package management tools in the past, so we can expect OEM’s to learn from this, right?” the researchers said.

HP and Lenovo responded well to their concerns, they said, by patching the flaws promptly and with the latter removing the software outright. Dell did its due diligence too, they added. Asus and Acer on the other hand have not sufficiently addressed the problems, according to the firm.

Finally, theresearchers warn users to be more skeptical of laptops after they purchase them. “Wipe any OEM system, and reinstall a clean and bloatware-free copy of Windows before the system is used,” they wrote in their conclusion.

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Jonathan Keane
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Jonathan is a freelance technology journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. He's previously written for publications and sites…
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