'Serious' flaws in Intel and other chips impact millions of devices

Sheri Evans
January 13, 2018

Media reports have suggesting a significant performance impact from some of the updates. "Intel encourages computer users worldwide to utilise the automatic update functions of their operating systems and other computer software to ensure their systems are up-to-date".

A highly-regarded and U.S. government-linked cybersecurity organisation has quietly withdrawn its recommendation that users and manufacturers replace the chips in their devices to fully protect against a security vulnerability that just became public. The other vulnerability, dubbed Meltdown, was found mostly in Intel processors as far back as 1995; it's unclear whether AMD or ARM-based chips have the same problem.

There is no evidence that hackers have been able to exploit the weaknesses and they would need to have the specific malware installed first, so hackers wouldn't be able to randomly try to take control of just any system connected to the internet.

Google's Project Zero team said Wednesday that the flaw could allow bad actors to gather passwords and other sensitive data from a system's memory. "Intel's material defect can be patched-but patched computers, smartphones and devices suffer reduced performance", one of the lawsuits states.

A security vulnerability in chips made by Intel and others was discovered by Google "a couple months ago", Intel's CEO said.

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"We're aware of this industry-wide issue and have been working closely with chip manufacturers to develop and test mitigations to protect our customers", said Microsoft in a statement. ARM Holdings said it's working with Intel, AMD and operating system vendors to address the problem.

The findings were that processor microarchitectures from Intel, AMD and ARM were all vulnerable to a lesser or greater extent. Unfortunately, this involves reducing the overall performance of the operating system. It's a part of the Software Engineering Institute, which is itself a non-profit that's largely funded by grants from the US Department of Defence. As of now users can�??t do much but update their devices to the latest security patches to mitigate the vulnerabilities.

"Intel has already issued updates for the majority of processor products introduced within the past five years", says an Intel spokesperson. "Exploits for these bugs will be added to hacker's standard toolkits", said Guido.

The difference here is in the design philosophy used by chip makers which favored speed gains over security in certain situations and will require rethinking future chip designs. But AMD also told its customers that "total protection from all possible attacks remains an elusive goal" and encouraged them to regularly update their software.

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