Security Market Segment LS
Friday, 24 August 2018 07:55

Uproar forces Intel to change licence terms for chip patches

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Intel's bid to hide the fact that microcode patches it issued to fix vulnerabilities in its processors were causing slowdowns has been exposed and the company has rewritten the terms of the licence for these patches as a result.

The licence accompanying the patches had language that prevented anyone using them from publishing benchmarks to show the extent to which the patches had slowed down the processors in question.

But several Linux distributions made a noise about this. Debian developer Henrique de Moraes Holschuh wrote on 15 August that the patch released was not distributable because of the licence restrictions.

He said that patches for Debian, which had been readied a week earlier, could not be uploaded for this reason.

Well-known open source advocate Bruce Perens highlighted the issue, quoting the pertinent portion of the licence, and then writing: "Since the microcode is running for every instruction, this seems to be a use restriction on the entire processor. Don’t run your benchmarker at all, not even on your own software, if you 'provide' or publish the results."

Perens added: "The correct way to handle security problems is to own up to the damage, publish mitigations, and make it possible for your customers to get along.

"Hiding how they are damaged is unacceptable. Silencing free speech by those who would merely publish benchmarks? Bad business. Customers can’t trust your components when you do that."

Intel has not issued any formal statement about the change of the licence but merely published the changed portions, which cover redistribution, here.

A company spokesperson emailed this statement to iTWire: "We have simplified the Intel license to make it easier to distribute CPU microcode updates and posted the new version. As an active member of the open source community, we continue to welcome all feedback and thank the community.”

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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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