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Wednesday, 15 May 2019 09:44

Intel reveals four more Spectre-like bugs in its processors Featured

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Intel reveals four more Spectre-like bugs in its processors Image by tookapic from Pixabay

Intel has revealed four more vulnerabilities in all its modern processors, all of which could lead to side channel attacks that use speculative execution to leak data.

In its disclosure note, Intel gave the four bugs a severity rating of "medium" and said they had been first discovered by its own researchers and independently reported to the company by external researchers.

Processors made by AMD and ARM are not affected by these vulnerabilities. The four bugs have been named ZombieLoad, RIDL, Fallout and Store-To-Leak Forwarding.

Collectively called Microarchitectural Data Sampling, Intel said of the bugs: "Under certain conditions, MDS provides a program the potential means to read data that program otherwise would not be able to see.

"MDS techniques are based on a sampling of data leaked from small structures within the CPU using a locally executed speculative execution side channel.

"Practical exploitation of MDS is a very complex undertaking. MDS does not, by itself, provide an attacker with a way to choose the data that is leaked."

Last year, a number of vulnerabilities exploiting speculative execution, where processors attempt to anticipate and execute instructions, were also disclosed. Two of them became very well-known; they had the names Meltdown and Spectre.

Intel said MDS was addressed in hardware beginning with select 8th and 9th Generation Intel Core processors, as well as the 2nd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable processor family.

All future Intel processors would include hardware mitigations addressing these vulnerabilities, it said.

The company said for products where MDS was not addressed in hardware, it was releasing processor microcode updates as part of its regular update process with its OEMs.

A rundown of the impact on performance when these updates were applied was provided.

Commenting on the new vulnerabilities, Kevin Bocek, vice-president, Security Strategy and Threat Intelligence at cyber security company Venafi, said: "These vulnerabilities represent a scary reality that’s actually been around for a quite a while. Cyber attackers are exploiting the identities of machines to obtain sensitive data.

"Code signing keys, TLS digital certificates, SSH keys are all incredibly valuable targets and chip vulnerabilities make it possible for attackers to make off with these critical security assets when running on nearby cloud and virtual machines."

Bocek said it appeared that some security professionals had forgotten about Heartbleed, but this vulnerability proved that similar attacks should be expected in the future.

"Security teams need to accept that they won’t be able to avoid vulnerabilities like ZombieLoad; instead they need to focus on protecting the keys and certificates attackers are targeting," he said.

"Responding to chip vulnerabilities successfully requires complete visibility of where all keys and certificates are located, intelligence on how they are being used and the automation to replace them in seconds… not days or weeks. Consider ZombieLoad, and other chip vulnerabilities, a dress rehearsal for the day quantum computing breaks all machine identities.“


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Sam Varghese

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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