Ever wanted to get up close and personal with your processor? Well, no, neither have I, but sometimes it’s a good idea. If you are thinking about upgrading or changing your operating system, for example, it’s a really good idea to check that your current processing capabilities are up to the challenge of the new software, and SecurAble is a little tool that will help you do just that.
If low-effort computing is your aim, SecurAble won’t let you down. This tool doesn’t need to be installed and running it is a simple as just clicking on the SecurAble icon. The window that opens will already have the information you are looking for displayed, divided into Maximum Bit Length, Hardware D.E.P (Data Execution Prevention) and Hardware Virtualization assessments. Clicking on any of the options will show you SecurAble’s assessment of your computer’s abilities, all described in friendly and easy-to-understand terms.
That’s really all there is to SecurAble. Of course, users will either need the knowledge to verify the program’s verdict themselves, or else they’ll just have to trust it. In the test I did, however, the assessment was indeed correct. SecurAble is a specific tool for a specific job, and it performs perfectly.
Modern processor hardware can be instructed to designate regions of memory as non-executable. This means that the memory can be used to store reference data to be read and written, but that the processor cannot treat the contents of the memory as program code to be directly executed. Intel calls this capability in their newer processors XD for “eXecute Disable” and AMD refers to it as NX for “No eXecute.” AMD’s marketing materials also sometimes refer to this capability by the annoying marketing term EVP for Enhanced Virus Protection.
As a hardware capability of modern processors this addition is important, but its use depends entirely upon support from the operating system. So when Microsoft introduced support for this into their operating systems, they termed it Hardware DEP for Data Execution Prevention. Support for hardware DEP was introduced into the 32-bit versions of Windows XP with Service Pack 2, into Windows 2003 Server with Service Pack 1, and has always been present in Windows Vista. Unfortunately, however, in every case, hardware DEP support is disabled for all or most of the system’s software by default. It does no one any good unless it’s turned on.
When hardware DEP support is active, an XD/NX-aware operating system running on an XD/NX-capable and enabled processor will mark all memory regions not explicitly containing executable code as non-executable. This protects the system’s “heaps”, “stacks”, data and communications buffers from inadvertently running any executable code they might contain.
Why would data or communications buffers ever contain executable code? . . . because so-called “Buffer Overrun” attacks are the predominant way Internet-connected computers have historically been remotely hacked and compromised. Hackers locate obscure software vulnerabilities which allow them to “overrun” the buffers with their own data. This tricks the computer into executing the hacker’s supplied data (which is actually code) contained within that buffer. But if the operating system has marked that Internet communications buffer region of memory as only being valid for containing data and NOT code, the hacker’s attack will never get started. Instead, the operating system will display a notice to the user that the vulnerable program is being terminated BEFORE any of the hacker’s code has the chance to run.
Anti-Virus and anti-malware software is useful, but as we know, virus signature files must be continually updated to keep A/V software aware of new threats. Significantly, A/V software is unable to protect against unknown viruses and malware intrusions because it searches for known malicious code rather than detecting and blocking potentially malicious behavior. Hardware DEP, on the other hand, when properly configured, hardens the entire system against both known and unknown vulnerabilities by detecting and preventing the behavior of code execution in data buffers.
Buffer overrun vulnerabilities are so difficult to prevent that scores of them are being found and exploited in operating system and application software every day. Taking advantage of modern processor XD/NX capabilities is a powerful way to fight back and prevent this most common class of Internet vulnerabilities.