What Is Monitor Tracking in BIOS?

By Joe Murray

Confidential surveys of Fortune 500 companies by the Computer Security Institute describe hardware and software losses running into the billions of dollars annually. Surprisingly, up to 80 percent of these corporate losses are due to insiders. Monitor tracking by companies has proven to be a major deterrent to intellectual property theft. HP among others added a monitor tracking feature to their enterprise BIOS firmware to deal with this growing problem.

Security Issues

In order to protect their intellectual and real property from theft, enterprise companies have deployed a number of security devices since the 1990s. Keyloggers and screen monitors have been used by corporate security to keep an eye on employees’ use of company time while connected to the Internet. As the sophistication of users increased, so did the level of concealment of such measures. When placed in the program file of the operating system, it was discovered that a simple virus scan could often be used to remove or disable monitor tracking protections. A more hard to reach location was required.

BIOS Firmware

Since it is impossible to access the basic input/output system without knowing the proper keystrokes, the BIOS would be the ideal location for monitor tracking software. Embedding the tracking capability in the firmware of the BIOS became the new technique for monitor tracking software. Generally installed in the Advanced Options section of the BIOS security settings, the monitor tracking allows external software to view and record the user’s screen remotely at any time. To be used the option must be enabled and directed to a specific IP address. Software is also required on the data receiving end.

Tracking Software

When installed on a remote computer, tracking software from any one of several companies can be used to view and record any computer monitor with activated BIOS monitoring firmware enabled. The software has the ability to monitor a potentially unlimited number of machines although investigations are generally limited to a dozen or fewer machines and are activated in random search patterns unless a specific threat is discovered.

Effective Protection

Although private enterprise does not release figures of the effectiveness of monitor tracking due to internal security concerns, the mere knowledge that such systems are in place would give any would-be- thief pause. BIOS firmware with monitor tracking enabled adds another layer of security to protect enterprise intellectual property from unauthorized use.