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Every modern processor has unfixable security flaws

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#1 manunkind


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Posted 04 January 2018 - 01:32 AM

Windows, Linux, and macOS have all received security patches that significantly alter how the operating systems handle virtual memory in order to protect against a hitherto undisclosed flaw. This is more than a little notable; it’s been clear that Microsoft and the Linux kernel developers have been informed of some non-public security issue and have been rushing to fix it. But nobody knew quite what the problem was, leading to lots of speculation and experimentation based on pre-releases of the patches.


Now we know what the flaw is. And it’s not great news, because there are in fact two related families of flaws with similar impact, and only one of them has any easy fix.


The flaws have been named Meltdown and Spectre. Meltdown was independently discovered by three groups—researchers from the Technical University of Graz in Austria, German security firm Cerberus Security, and Google’s Project Zero. Spectre was discovered independently by Project Zero and independent researcher Paul Kocher.


At their heart, both attacks takes advantage of the fact that processors execute instructions speculatively. All modern processors perform speculative execution to a greater or lesser extent; they’ll assume that, for example, a given condition will be true and execute instructions accordingly. If it later turns out that the condition was false, the speculatively executed instructions are discarded as if they had no effect.


However, while the discarded effects of this speculative execution don’t alter the outcome of a program, they do make changes to the lowest level architectural features of the processors. For example, speculative execution can load data into cache even if it turns out that the data should never have been loaded in the first place. The presence of the data in the cache can then be detected, because accessing it will be a little bit quicker than if it weren’t cached. Other data structures in the processor, such as the branch predictor, can also be probed and have their performance measured, which can similarly be used to reveal sensitive information.



#2 moon



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Posted 04 January 2018 - 06:20 PM

Yes, over all these years i've been Intel MB and processor person all the way as I had AMD troubles in the beginning.


Sorry to hear about the security issue but never had any problems with the Intel combo.

#3 moon



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Posted 08 January 2018 - 08:59 PM



Qualcomm has confirmed its processors have the same security vulnerabilities disclosed this week in Intel, Arm, AMD and IBM CPU cores.

The California tech giant picked the favored Friday US West Coast afternoon "news dump" slot to admit at least some of its billions of Arm-compatible Snapdragon system-on-chips and newly released Centriq server-grade processors are subject to the Meltdown and/or Spectre data-theft bugs.

"Qualcomm Technologies, Inc is aware of the security research on industry-wide processor vulnerabilities that have been reported," a spokesperson for Qualcomm told The Register on Friday.

"Providing technologies that support robust security and privacy is a priority for Qualcomm, and as such, we have been working with Arm and others to assess impact and develop mitigations for our customers."

The spokesperson continued:

We are actively incorporating and deploying mitigations against the vulnerabilities for our impacted products, and we continue to work to strengthen them as possible. We are in the process of deploying these mitigations to our customers and encourage people to update their devices when patches become available.

Qualcomm declined to comment further on precisely which of the three CVE-listed vulnerabilities its chips were subject to, or give any details on which of its CPU models may be vulnerable. The paper describing the Spectre data-snooping attacks mentions that Qualcomm's CPUs are affected, while the Meltdown paper doesn't conclude either way.

Qualcomm uses a mix of customized off-the-shelf Arm cores and its homegrown Arm-compatible CPUs in its products, which drive tons of Android-based smartphones, tablets, and other devices. A selection of Arm Cortex-A and Cortex-R CPU core designs are vulnerable to the CVE-2017-5753 and CVE-2017-5715 Spectre vulnerabilities, but only one – the Cortex-A75 – is also vulnerable to the easily exploitable CVE-2017-5754 Meltdown flaw. The A75 is not in any shipping product at the moment.

Qualcomm will use that A75 core for its Snapdragon 845, while other Snapdragon lines list the A53 and A72, which are only vulnerable to the two Spectre variants. As we said, Qualcomm uses a mix of custom and off-the-shelf cores; they are probably affected by Spectre, and maybe Meltdown. Qualy won't clarify either way.

Look out for operating system updates – particularly Android and Linux – to install on your Qualcomm-powered devices and machines.

Apple, which too bases its iOS A-series processors on Arm's instruction set, said earlier this week that its mobile CPUs were vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown – patches are available or incoming for iOS. The iGiant's Intel-based Macs also need the latest macOS, version 10.13.2 or greater, to kill off Meltdown attacks. Spectre also needs to be patched in macOS at some point.

Meanwhile, IBM said firmware updates will arrive next week for its POWER CPUs to address Spectre-like bugs in its designs. ®

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#4 ranchhand



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Posted 09 January 2018 - 03:04 PM

Just to keep everything in perspective....

These vulnerabilities have not been discovered in the wild...these are laboratory discovered weaknesses. There are no known attacks from hackers. In addition, these are deep, low-level vulnerabilities that would require some seriously sophisticated software, and a very competent hacker to use them. So....don't go looking at your computer wondering if you are the unknowing victim of this attack.

The biggest targets would be major corporations, and particularly government institutions. And agreed, that is extremely dangerous. But I think those holes will be covered before even China or Russia can take advantage.

If you really want something to be concerned about, THIS is what should be on your mind. 1984, George Orwell.

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#5 manunkind


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Posted 09 January 2018 - 06:12 PM

I've dove into this deeply in the last few days, and I am pushing folks to patch their software, firmware and OS. This is not new and has been known for a while now and chances are very high that government agencies have already been using these. On top of that, proof of concepts are being released on a daily basis that pull passwords, private keys, decryption keys, etc from unpatched systems. This will very soon be weaponized and included in various pieces of malware and attack tools. Is the sky currently falling? No. But there is a lot of concern of future exploits.
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PC Sympathy

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