Browsing the Internet can result in malware and spyware downloads, malicious software can arrive via spam email, but a fresh-out-of-the-box laptop computer should be totally malware free. But not always. A pre-installed keylogger on HP laptops has recently been identified by Swedish security firm Modzero.
Potentially unwanted programs can be found on many new devices. Some serve a purpose but pose a security threat. For instance, in 2014, Lenovo laptop computers were shipped with ‘malware’ already installed that made the devices vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. The program was Superfish.
The pre-installed keylogger on HP laptops does not appear to be used for any malicious purposes, although there is considerable potential for the program to be abused. The spyware records all keystrokes on the laptops after a user logs in and stores that information in a local drive. In some situations, the keystrokes will be passed to an API on the laptop.
The keylogger was discovered in an audio driver package – Conexant HD Audio Driver Package 188.8.131.52 and earlier versions. The offending file is MicTray64.exe, located in the C:\windows\system32\ folder.
Each time a user logs in, the program is scheduled to run. The file monitors all keystrokes on the device in order to monitor for special keystrokes. The program was developed by, Conexant, the audio chip manufacturer. The program has been included on HP laptops since December 2015.
While the software itself does not exactly pose a threat, the way the program logs the keystrokes allows the recorded keystrokes to be easily accessed. The log file created by the software is stored in the public folder (C:\users\public\MicTray.log) and can therefore be accessed by anyone.
The file is overwritten each time a user logs in, but any keystrokes recorded during that session could be accessed by anyone with access to the device. Additionally, if the registry key with the filepath is missing or corrupted, the keystrokes will be passed to a local API called OutputDebugString API.
Malware installed on the device could potentially allow the log file to be copied, and along with it, all keystrokes from the session. It would also be possible for keystrokes to be obtained in real-time.
The inclusion of the keylogger on HP laptops was an error according to HP. It was used as a debugging tool and should have been removed in the final version of the product.
HP has responded to the discovery by releasing a patch to fix the issue, which is available from the HP website or via Microsoft Update. All owners of HP laptops purchased since December 2015 should download the patch to mitigate the issue.
Models found to contain the pre-installed spyware include the following 28 models of HP laptops:
- HP EliteBook 820 G3 Notebook PC
- HP EliteBook 828 G3 Notebook PC
- HP EliteBook 840 G3 Notebook PC
- HP EliteBook 848 G3 Notebook PC
- HP EliteBook 850 G3 Notebook PC
- HP ProBook 640 G2 Notebook PC
- HP ProBook 650 G2 Notebook PC
- HP ProBook 645 G2 Notebook PC
- HP ProBook 655 G2 Notebook PC
- HP ProBook 450 G3 Notebook PC
- HP ProBook 430 G3 Notebook PC
- HP ProBook 440 G3 Notebook PC
- HP ProBook 446 G3 Notebook PC
- HP ProBook 470 G3 Notebook PC
- HP ProBook 455 G3 Notebook PC
- HP EliteBook 725 G3 Notebook PC
- HP EliteBook 745 G3 Notebook PC
- HP EliteBook 755 G3 Notebook PC
- HP EliteBook 1030 G1 Notebook PC
- HP ZBook 15u G3 Mobile Workstation
- HP Elite x2 1012 G1 Tablet
- HP Elite x2 1012 G1 with Travel Keyboard
- HP Elite x2 1012 G1 Advanced Keyboard
- HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G3 Notebook PC
- HP ZBook 17 G3 Mobile Workstation
- HP ZBook 15 G3 Mobile Workstation
- HP ZBook Studio G3 Mobile Workstation
- HP EliteBook Folio G1 Notebook PC