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Fixing Serious Bugs in Widely Used Computer Chips Means Slowing Down Your Machine

January 3, 2018

A flaw in many chips leaves devices vulnerable to attack unless they’re patched with software that will make them sluggish. Some semiconductors from ARM, whose chips are popular with mobile phone makers, are also affected. AMD chips may also be affected, though the company told Axios there is a “near zero” risk to its products.

The problem: For many tasks, the core of an operating system, known as the kernel, must be used to perform operations on behalf of programs. Because of how that’s enabled in many chips, regular programs—like, say, Microsoft Word—can currently peek into the kernel’s memory. That’s troubling, because it contains secrets like passwords.

The fix: The problem can be solved by tweaking the way an OS uses a computer’s chip. The change—expected to appear in Windows and Linux-based OS patches soon—closes the window into the kernel memory.

But: Some experts say that such software updates could slow computers by 5 to 30 percent. Intel claims that most customers won't see a significant slowdown.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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