Intel Claims Security Flaw Also Impacts Non-Intel Chips, Exploits Can't Corrupt, Modify or Delete Data [Updated]

intelIntel this afternoon addressed reports of a serious design flaw and security vulnerability in its CPUs, shedding additional light on the issue that was uncovered yesterday and has since received extensive media coverage.

In a statement on its website, Intel says that it planned to disclose the vulnerability next week when additional software patches were available, but was forced to make a statement today due to "inaccurate media reports."

According to Intel, the issue is not limited to Intel chips and the exploits in question do not have the potential to corrupt, modify, or delete data. Despite Intel's statement, Intel chips are more heavily impacted, and it's worth noting that Intel makes no mention of reading kernel level data.

Intel and other technology companies have been made aware of new security research describing software analysis methods that, when used for malicious purposes, have the potential to improperly gather sensitive data from computing devices that are operating as designed. Intel believes these exploits do not have the potential to corrupt, modify or delete data.

Recent reports that these exploits are caused by a "bug" or a "flaw" and are unique to Intel products are incorrect. Based on the analysis to date, many types of computing devices -- with many different vendors' processors and operating systems -- are susceptible to these exploits.

Intel says it is working with several other technology companies including AMD, ARM, and operating system vendors to "develop an industry-wide approach" to resolve the problem "promptly and constructively."

As outlined yesterday, the design flaw appears to allow normal user programs to see some of the contents of the protected kernel memory, potentially giving hackers and malicious programs access to sensitive information like passwords, login keys, and more. Fixing the issue involves isolating the kernel's memory from user processes using Kernel Page Table Isolation at the OS level.

Despite reports suggesting software fixes for the vulnerability could cause slowdowns of 5 to 30 percent on some machines, Intel claims performance impacts are workload-dependent and will not be noticeable to the average computer user.

Intel has begun providing software and firmware updates to mitigate these exploits. Contrary to some reports, any performance impacts are workload-dependent, and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time.

Intel goes on to say that it believes its products are "the most secure in the world" and that the current fixes in the works provide the "best possible security" for its customers. Intel recommends that users install operating system updates as soon as they are available.

For Mac users, Apple has already addressed the design flaw in macOS 10.13.2, which was released to the public on December 6.

Update: Security researchers have now shared details about two separate critical vulnerabilities impacting most Intel processors and some ARM processors. Called Meltdown and Spectre, the vulnerabilities offer hackers access to data from the memory of running apps, providing passwords, emails, documents, photos, and more.

"Almost every system" since 1995 is impacted according to ZDNet, including computers and smartphones. Meltdown can read the entire physical memory of the target machine, while Spectre is able to break the isolation between different apps. Meltdown, an easy-to-use exploit, affects only Intel chips and can be addressed by a security patch, which could result in some performance issues. Spectre impacts all processors, including those from ARM and AMD, and while it is harder to exploit, there is no known fix. Fully addressing Spectre will require a re-architecture of how processors are designed.

It's not known if hackers have exploited Meltdown and Spectre as of yet, but there are proof-of-concept examples out in the wild. Google's Project Zero team had a hand in unearthing the vulnerabilities and Google has also shared details on the exploits. Full research papers on Meltdown and Spectre are available here.

Update 2: ARM and AMD have both issued statements following Intel's press release. AMD says there is a "near zero risk" to AMD processors at this time, while ARM says its processors are vulnerable.

From AMD:

There is a lot of speculation today regarding a potential security issue related to modern microprocessors and speculative execution. As we typically do when a potential security issue is identified, AMD has been working across our ecosystem to evaluate and respond to the speculative execution attack identified by a security research team to ensure our users are protected.

To be clear, the security research team identified three variants targeting speculative execution. The threat and the response to the three variants differ by microprocessor company, and AMD is not susceptible to all three variants. Due to differences in AMD's architecture, we believe there is a near zero risk to AMD processors at this time. We expect the security research to be published later today and will provide further updates at that time.

From ARM:

I can confirm that ARM have been working together with Intel and AMD to address a side-channel analysis method which exploits speculative execution techniques used in certain high-end processors, including some of our Cortex-A processors. This method requires malware running locally and could result in data being accessed from privileged memory. Please note our Cortex-M processors, which are pervasive in low-power, connected IoT devices, are not impacted.

We are in the process of informing our silicon partners and encouraging them to implement the software mitigations developed if their chips are impacted.

Top Rated Comments

timeconsumer Avatar
66 months ago
I wonder how long Intel has known about this flaw.
Apparently the CEO sold a lot of his stock on Nov 29th and kept the bare minimum amount.

https://www.fool.com/investing/2017/12/19/intels-ceo-just-sold-a-lot-of-stock.aspx
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Apple_Robert Avatar
66 months ago
I wonder how long Intel has known about this flaw.
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
velocityg4 Avatar
66 months ago
No... after this, I doubt Intel on security, and from what I gather, this stretches all the way back to the Pentium Pro.

Also, I don't care if it modifies, writes or deletes... the most improtant thing the bug allows reading
At least those running DOS 6 and Windows 3.1 on a 486 are safe.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)
kevinthebright Avatar
66 months ago
Shading AMD is just another Intel cheap shot. That company has problems.
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jav6454 Avatar
66 months ago
No... after this, I doubt Intel on security, and from what I gather, this stretches all the way back to the Pentium Pro.

Also, I don't care if it modifies, writes or deletes... the most improtant thing the bug allows reading
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
longofest Avatar
66 months ago
I wonder how long Intel has known about this flaw.
I actually kind of doubt they knew about it. While AMD is not affected, it does look like ARM chips are affected. This flaw has potentially been around since Pentium Pro. If Intel knew about it, they'd have quietly fixed it rather than letting it go. I think this is just a really, really good find by the researchers.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

iphone 15 pro wifi 6e

Internal Apple Document From Leaker 'Unknownz21' Confirms Wi-Fi 6E Will Be Limited to iPhone 15 Pro Models

Friday January 27, 2023 10:01 am PST by
Multiple rumors have suggested that the next-generation iPhone 15 models will adopt the Wi-Fi 6E standard that Apple has already introduced in the iPad Pro and MacBook Pro, and now a leaked document appears to confirm Apple's plans. Sourced from researcher and Apple leaker Unknownz21 (@URedditor), the document features diagrams of the iPhone 15's antenna architecture. D8x refers to the...
iPhone 14 Pro Purple Side Perspective Feature Purple

iPhone 15 Pro Rumored to Have These 8 Features

Friday January 27, 2023 2:11 pm PST by
Apple's next-generation iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max are expected to be announced in September as usual. Already, rumors suggest the devices will have at least eight exclusive features not available on the standard iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus. An overview of the eight features rumored to be exclusive to iPhone 15 Pro models:A17 chip: iPhone 15 Pro models will be equipped with an A17...
top stories 28jan2023

Top Stories: iOS 16.3 Released, iPhone 15 Pro Rumors, macOS Tips and Tricks, and More

Saturday January 28, 2023 6:00 am PST by
Following last week's hardware announcements, this week saw the actual release of several of the new products as well as operating system updates bringing new features and bug fixes across Apple's platforms. This week also saw some fresh rumors about the iPhone 15 lineup and Apple's upcoming AR/VR headset, while we shared some tips to help you get the most of your macOS experience, so read...
Multi Display CarPlay 1

Apple Launching All-New CarPlay Experience Later This Year With These 5 Features

Sunday January 29, 2023 10:15 am PST by
In June 2022, Apple previewed the next generation of CarPlay, promising deeper integration with vehicle functions like A/C and FM radio, support for multiple displays across the dashboard, personalization options, and more. Apple says the first vehicles with support for the next-generation CarPlay experience will be announced in late 2023, with committed automakers including Acura, Audi,...
maxresdefault

Hands-On With the New M2 Max MacBook Pro

Thursday January 26, 2023 12:14 pm PST by
New 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models with the latest M2 Pro and M2 Max chips are available in Apple retail stores and are already in the hands of customers, and we picked up one of the new M2 Max machines to answer all of the questions MacRumors readers considering a purchase might have. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Yesterday, we asked MacRumors fans on...
iPhone 15 General Mock Feature

Kuo: iPhone 15 Models to Adopt Wi-Fi 6E

Thursday January 26, 2023 5:09 pm PST by
The upcoming iPhone 15 models that are set to be introduced later in 2023 will adopt the Wi-Fi 6E standard, according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. In a note about Apple's work on a Wi-Fi chip, Kuo said that the company will upgrade the iPhone 15 to Wi-Fi 6E. Apple is already using Wi-Fi 6E for the 11 and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models introduced last year, along with the new Mac mini and...
iPhone 14 Pro Purple Side Perspective Feature Purple

iPhone 15 Expected to Feature Wi-Fi 6E Like Latest Macs and iPad Pro

Wednesday January 25, 2023 5:39 pm PST by
The iPhone 15 will support Wi-Fi 6E, according to a research note shared this week by Barclays analysts Blayne Curtis and Tom O'Malley. The analysts did not specify whether the feature will be available on all models or limited to the Pro models. Apple has added Wi-Fi 6E support to a handful of devices so far, including the latest 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro, 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook...