Intel CEO Pledges Commitment to Security Following Meltdown and Spectre Vulnerabilities

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich today wrote an open letter to Intel customers following the "Meltdown" and "Spectre" hardware-based vulnerabilities that impact its processors.

In the letter, Krzanich says that by January 15, updates will have been issued for at least 90 percent of Intel CPUs introduced in the past five years, with updates for the remainder coming at the end of January.

For Apple customers, macOS and iOS devices have been patched with protection against Spectre and Meltdown. Meltdown was addressed in macOS High Sierra 10.13.2 and iOS 11.2, while Spectre mitigations were introduced in a macOS 10.13.2 supplemental update and iOS 11.2.2, both of which were released this week. The vulnerabilities have also been addressed in older versions of macOS and OS X.

According to Krzanich, going forward, Intel promises to offer timely and transparent communications, with details on patch progress and performance data. Because Spectre and Meltdown are hardware-based vulnerabilities, they must be addressed through software workarounds. In some cases, these software patches cause machines to perform more slowly.

Apple users do not need to worry about performance impacts. According to Apple, Meltdown had no measurable reduction in performance on devices running macOS and iOS across several benchmarks. Spectre, fixed through a Safari mitigation, had no measurable impact on most tests, but did impact performance by less than 2.5% on the JetStream benchmark. Apple says it plans to continue to refine its mitigations going further.

In addition to remaining transparent about the performance impact of the software fixes, Krzanich says Intel will commit to disclosing security vulnerabilities and sharing hardware innovations that will, in the future, prevent such attacks.

Our customers' security is an ongoing priority, not a one-time event. To accelerate the security of the entire industry, we commit to publicly identify significant security vulnerabilities following rules of responsible disclosure and, further, we commit to working with the industry to share hardware innovations that will accelerate industry-level progress in dealing with side-channel attacks. We also commit to adding incremental funding for academic and independent research into potential security threats.

For those who missed the news last week, Spectre and Meltdown are serious hardware-based vulnerabilities that take advantage of the speculative execution mechanism of a CPU, potentially allowing hackers to gain access to sensitive information.

Spectre and Meltdown impact all modern processors, including those used in Mac and iOS devices, and these two vulnerabilities will continue to be an issue for the foreseeable future as addressing them entirely requires new hardware design. Apple has prevented Spectre and Meltdown from affecting customers through software updates, but all hardware and software manufacturers will need to be wary of additional speculative execution attacks going forward.

Apple customers should make sure to keep their Macs and iOS devices up to date with the latest software to remain protected from malicious attacks that might take advantage of the exploits.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
29 months ago
The stark truth is nothing in the digital realm will ever be truly safe. Ever.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
29 months ago
Won't hurt them in the long run. Their stock has been great and will continue to be.

It's not as if companies really have another option. Yes AMD exists but companies aren't going to switch everything over (and AMD was vulnerable too).

Few months from now people won't even be talking about this.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
29 months ago
Okay, what about future processors like Ice Lake which I believe is scheduled for release next year? Should people not purchase any new Macs or Windows PCs until it’s confirmed that they’re free of this vulnerability? Will there be any compensation for customers who purchased a Mac or Windows PC with the hardware vulnerability and are now experiencing more than just a small performance degradation in their daily workflow. Just telling us about software “workarounds” that won’t impact performance “too much” isn’t good enough.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
29 months ago
Great PR speech. Trust us, we'll do better next time.

How about telling us how this slipped through for so long and what changes are being made to make sure there we have minimal risk of other security holes like this. Do this, and we might believe you.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
29 months ago

As far as I understand it, AMD CPUs are only affected by Spectre V1, but Intel CPUs affected by Spectre V1, Spectre V2 and Meltdown....No Ryzen CPUs are affected by this...

That is not correct. AMD CPUs (including Ryzen) are affected by both Specter V1 and V2:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cyber-microchips-amd/amd-chips-exposed-to-both-variants-of-spectre-security-flaw-idUSKBN1F0314

Spectre and/or Meltdown also affects Oracle (formerly Sun) SPARC: https://sp.ts.fujitsu.com/dmsp/Publications/public/Intel-Side-Channel-Analysis-Method-Security-Review-CVE2017-5715-vulnerability-Fujitsu-products.pdf

Spectre also affects IBM System Z mainframes, POWER8 and POWER9: https://access.redhat.com/security/vulnerabilities/speculativeexecution

Meltdown and Spectre affect certain ARM CPUs, including those used in the Nintendo Switch console: http://www.nintendolife.com/news/2018/01/cpu_exploits_meltdown_and_spectre_could_potentially_affect_nintendo_switch

Since the main criteria for Spectre vulnerability are (a) speculative execution and (b) branch prediction, it probably affects older RISC CPUs like the DEC Alpha 21264 and MIPS R10000: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha_21264

All of the above use out-of-order execution, speculative execution and branch prediction. Some CPUs use in-order speculative execution and branch prediction, such as the ARM A8, but are still vulnerable. A long list of ARM CPUs are affected, including A75, A73, A72, A57, A17, A15, A9, A8, R8, and R7: https://developer.arm.com/support/security-update

So CPUs with speculative in-order execution can be affected, not just the more common out-of-order type. While Intel's Itanium is mentioned as immune to Spectre, I'm not certain of that. Despite the VLIW in-order design, it heavily uses speculation and hardware branch prediction: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itanium

Itanium is a factor from a planning standpoint because the architecture is totally different from most other CPUs, yet it may still be affected. If so, this indicates how broad Spectre is and how fundamentally the problem must be approached from the standpoint of CPU redesign.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
29 months ago
Total PR stunt. The severity of these vulnerabilities does not warrant this kind of apology.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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