Meltdown, Spectre chip flaws raise questions about hardware security

Meltdown, Spectre chip flaws raise questions about hardware security

"Spectre" can affect computers, phones and tablets. The company says that is "has developed and is rapidly issuing updates for all types of Intel-based computer systems", but it is not clear when - or whether - older devices will be treated to patches.

The executives clarified, however, that the performance impact will be negligible when it comes to average PC users.

Technology companies are working to protect their customers after researchers revealed that major security flaws affecting almost every modern computer processor could allow hackers to steal stored data - including passwords and other sensitive information - on desktops, laptops, mobile phones and cloud networks around the globe. Engineers at Google originally detected the flaw and wrote in a blog post it could affect Intel, AMD, and ARM chips. "We have not received any information to indicate that these vulnerabilities had been used to attack our customers", Microsoft said in a statement.

However, later on Thursday afternoon, CERT/CC withdrew that recommendation, saying merely that anybody affected should install operating system updates as soon as possible. Gruss said Meltdown was the more serious problem in the short term but could be decisively stopped with software patches.

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Virtually every modern computing device is affected by the flaws, leaving technology companies scrambling to release patches to mitigate the threat, which could otherwise leave sensitive information exposed to hackers. The chip-makers have issued contradictory statements downplaying the severity of the bugs, but security experts are less sanguine. The flaws were first reported by tech publication The Register. That feature has been used in nearly every Intel processor since 1995, and is used by many AMD and ARM processors today. Fixes will involves software and firmware updates on both the hardware and the software sides. Without offering details, Intel suggests that "the performance impact of [its] updates is highly workload-dependent and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time".

Not patching the vulnerability not only puts the data in the chip memory at risk, but also provides an entry point to critical servers and the entire corporate network.

The release goes on to tout the "great progress" Intel has made in just days since news of these security flaws was broken by Google Project Zero, a team of security analysts employed by Google tasked with finding zero-day vulnerabilities. The majority of devices are already protected by regular software updates the firms have said.

The electronics giant urged consumers and businesses to check with operating system vendors and device manufacturers for updates.

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