A serious design flaw, which has resulted in a major security vulnerability, was discovered affecting a wide range of Intel processors (CPUs) this week, as per a report published on Tuesday by The Register.
The vulnerability affects all modern computers powered by an Intel chip including Windows, macOS, and Linux machines developed over the past 10 years, and will require operating system-level updates to rectify.
“Similar operating systems, such as Apple’s 64-bit macOS, will also need to be updated – the flaw is in the Intel x86 hardware, and it appears a microcode update can’t address it,” The Register notes, adding that “It has to be fixed in software at the OS level, or go buy a new processor without the design blunder.”
What’s the Flaw?
Unfortunately, due to a presently-instated embargo on the discovery, additional information about the flaw is unknown at this time. However The Register, in their independent research, was able to all but confirm it’s a “Kernel memory leaking” flaw which inadvertently allows “normal user programs to see some of the contents of the protected kernel memory.”
A computer’s Kernel memory, in essence, is its discreet, pseudo-storage drive, upon which vital information such as passwords, login credentials and other protected data is stored. Given the nature of the flaw and how it apparently “leaks” this vital data, it’s probable, in an absolute worst case scenario, that malicious programs could be granted access to the contents of your Kernel memory.
“At worst, the hole could be abused by programs and logged-in users to read the contents of the kernel’s memory,” The Register noted. “Suffice to say, this is not great.”
Is There a Fix?
Fortunately, at least for PC and Linux users, there’s currently a software level fix in the mix that will rectify the flaw. Unfortunately, to execute the patch will involve isolating your machine’s kernel memory from user processes using its inbuilt Kernel Page Table Isolation utility.
And this process, most unfortunately of all, will likely result in modest to noticeable performance reductions on your machine.. The Register noted that some Windows and Linux users could see between a 5 and 30 percent performance reduction once the patch is in place.
Interestingly, while Intel-powered Macs are also affected by the inherent flaw, so little information is known about it that it’s not yet clear how Apple computers will be affected from the patch. Much like its Windows and Linux counterparts, however, Apple will most certainly have to procure a fix once more information is known.