News Worms
News Worms


Intel hit with three class-action lawsuits over chip flaws

Regardless of whether the stock sale was related, Intel, AMD and ARM will all be eager to see Meltdown and Spectre put to bed so that they can turn their focus back to their product roadmaps for 2018 and beyond.

It was only a matter of time before we started naming security vulnerabilities after James Bond movies. Intel has said that the patches for the bugs would slow its chips down somewhat but that most users will not notice. The flaw was thought to be much harder to fix, if fixable at all.

Users of the Linux operating system can already download an update, while Microsoft is gradually pushing out fixes for Windows users. The issue was discovered by Google and academic researchers a year ago, and they had been working with the tech firms to try to put a fix in place before releasing any information on the problem. Meltdown affects computer processing tied to almost all microprocessors made by Intel and is most notably a problem for cloud networks used by providers like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google.

So that's the bad news, but there's also some good news in this story.

Last year, a team of Google researchers stumbled upon the hardware issue, which actually involves three separate vulnerabilities, and the computer industry had been collaborating in secret on a fix. Happily, their contributions are being celebrated and appreciated even by Intel, despite the fact that none of the researchers work there. The company said it had planned to make vulnerabilities public next week. But he said the company later threatened to bring a lawsuit against him under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The performance impact of the recent security updates should not be significant and will be mitigated over time, Intel said late on Thursday, adding that Apple Inc, Amazon.com Inc, Google and Microsoft Corp reported little to no performance impact from the security updates.

Reports began circulating Wednesday about a mysterious hardware issue that could cause sensitive data, including user passwords, to become accessible to hackers.

To counter it, Google developed a binary modification technique called Retpoline that protects against the second variant (named Spectre) of the attack. ARM has released patches for several of its chips affected by Spectre, and AMD says there is "near zero risk" to its products at the moment. The situation is tougher for cloud computing providers like Google, Amazon and Microsoft, since a hacker could conceivable use Meltdown to access information from other clients on a shared server. "It's going to be layered on top and it's going to cause problems".

One of the potential attack vectors for Meltdown and Spectre is via web browsers running on vulnerable systems. But since they were in fact immediately patched, they're probably one of the safest places to store your data right now if you're anxious about someone exploiting Meltdown. Updates and patches to fix Meltdown are being rolled out and will likely slow systems.

There's an understandable inclination in the aftermath of the discovery of a new security vulnerability or data breach to make it out to be as apocalyptically awful as possible if only so people will read about it.

"Any patch they do is a kluge", he said. But there are also happier stories underlying some of these discoveries and it's important not to lose sight of those.

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