The screen went black, then nothing.The notification in my task tray suggested a driver update, and I had some time, so I acquiesced. This particular alert prompted me to update the BIOS, and the convenient Intel Driver and Support Assistant let me do this right from Windows. I rarely updated my firmware; however, for the past two years, I’ve been enjoying the Hades Canyon NUC, an ultra-small form factor device the size of a paperback novel capable of low-end AAA gaming.This bastard of a device is the love child between Intel and Radeon graphics processors, with two graphical brains cleverly parked in one computer body. Intel handles the day-to-day visuals, and Radeon takes over for visually intensive work. It’s a slick device, but keeping the drivers and firmware current has ensured steady operation. Prior updates from this tool relieved a litany of bugs before they became too annoying to troubleshoot. So I ran the update without much thought.
How It All BeganSeveral minutes passed. The screen indicated the flash update completed successfully just before it went blank. As the minutes pressed on, the gentle hum of the computer sounded dull and inanimate. I grew nervous that I’d missed a critical step. Darkness pouring from my screen, I searched the internet for BIOS update instructions. “Do NOT at any time power off the computer at this stage”. Intel’s instructions for this two- to five-minute procedure went on: “If a BIOS update process is interrupted, your computer might not function properly.” I was being mocked by the user manual.An hour later, I restarted the computer. The screen’s last information displayed before going dark read, "Flash update has completed successfully"; I remained dubious. When I pressed the soft glowing plastic power button, the lights on the case fluttered to life. The monitor, however, remained bare. The lights confirmed power was getting to the machine, but nothing more. For a few moments, I’d yielded to the omnipotence of the Intel Driver and Support Assistant, not even taking a few moments to back up important files. The display glowed just enough to demonstrate it was powered on, offering no information from its host.
Side channel attacks take advantage of patterns in the information exhaust that computers constantly give off: the electric emissions from a computer's monitor or hard drive , for instance, that emanate slightly differently depending on what information is crossing the screen or being read by the drive's magnetic head.
Apollo 11: Mission Out of Control
Several options remained for reversing course. I prepared a bootable flash drive with the latest version of the BIOS, although I didn’t have the prescience to connect the update to my misery. The frantic run to a neighbor's house to set up a flash drive on his computer surely confused him, though he consented. Most of the recovery options required operational BIOS menus, and my machine wouldn’t even get there. I had never performed either of the viable remaining options; a power button menu update or recovery by security jumper. The power button menu update involved holding down the power button and releasing at exactly the right moment to essentially force a menu selection for those unable to access a menu. The security jumper involved opening the case and physically moving pieces around on the motherboard. In an effort to preserve the computer’s innards, I opted to start with the power button menu update.
Success! Blackness yielded to the power button menu. The white terminal typeface greeted my eyes like a beacon of hope. I hurriedly selected BIOS recovery before it disappeared. The screen was a facade, mocking me with an unreachable carrot on a stick. Keystrokes triggered no response. Unsure if I’d accidentally pressed the wrong button in my haste, I rebooted with similar results. The surgical approach remained my only option.Oh, No: Time for Surgery
I gathered my miniature screwdriver set to attempt the update via security jumper. This process involved removing the case of the computer to find the minuscule CMOS battery as well as a near-microscopic yellow piece of plastic, both on the motherboard. The plastic needed to be removed from a few delicate metal prongs and placed on two different, just as fragile spikes. This maneuver felt extra challenging with the ultra-small form factor NUC and its tightly compacted components. I was suddenly aware of my lack of attention to detail and precision as I set to work.