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Tuesday, 26 June 2018 08:57

Intel says new TLBleed flaw unrelated to Spectre or Meltdown Featured

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Processor giant Intel says that a new vulnerability in its CPUs, known as TLBleed, is not caused by speculative execution and hence not related to Spectre and Meltdown, two flaws which were disclosed in January.

In a statement on Tuesday, an Intel spokesperson said the company had been notified of research from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, which outlined a potential side-channel analysis vulnerability.

Details of TLBleed — so named because the flaw targets the Translation Lookaside Buffer, a CPU cache — were leaked to the British tech site, The Register, on Friday. A paper on the topic is scheduled to be presented at the Black Hat USA 2018 conference in August.

Last week, OpenBSD project leader Theo de Raadt told  iTWire that he could not reveal details about the flaw which he said the Dutch researchers had shared with the project. In the meantime, as a precaution, OpenBSD, which is used on some of the servers with the longest uptimes, had removed support for hyperthreading, he added.

On Monday, reacting to the story, former NSA hacker Jake Williams said on Twitter that a fix for a new vulnerability in Intel processors is likely to require changes to the core operating system and would probably need "a ton of work to mitigate (mostly app recompile)".

Later in the day, De Raadt outlined some of the difficulties he could visualise in patching TLBleed, ending with the sarcastic comment, "This Intel CPU is amazing. They sure are keeping it fresh and new!"

In its Tuesday statement, Intel said: "Research on side-channel analysis methods often focuses on manipulating and measuring the characteristics (e.g. timing) of shared hardware resources. These measurements can potentially allow researchers to extract information about the software and related data.

"TLBleed uses the Translation Lookaside Buffer, a cache common to many high-performance microprocessors that stores recent address translations from virtual memory to physical memory.

"Software or software libraries such as Intel Integrated Performance Primitives Cryptography version U3.1 — written to ensure constant execution time and data independent cache traces — should be immune to TLBleed.

"Protecting our customers’ data and ensuring the security of our products is a top priority for Intel and we will continue to work with customers, partners and researchers to understand and mitigate any vulnerabilities that are identified.”

Intel was asked why the company resisted obtaining a a Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures number for TLBleed and also why the company was unwilling to pay the researchers a bug bounty.

iTWire has been given to understand that Intel had issued CVE-2018-3691 earlier this year which dealt with a vulnerability in the Intel Integrated Performance Primitives Cryptography (impacting versions prior to 2018 U2.1).

The fix to patch that flaw, which is included in versions 2018 U2.1 and 2018 U3.1, ensured constant execution time and is expected to render exploits based on TLBleed ineffective.

iTWire also understands that the bug report by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam researchers did not meet all of the requirements of Intel's bug bounty program.

The CVE system, a catalogue of known security threats sponsored by the US Department of Homeland Security, provides a reference method for publicly known vulnerabilities and exposures.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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