The vulnerabilities could allow hackers to gain access to sensitive data in a computer’s memory
The bad news: According to a report in ZDNet, the flaws, which Intel calls “L1 Terminal Fault” and researchers have grouped under the moniker “Foreshadow,” are similar in nature to the Spectre and Meltdown security holes that were uncovered earlier this year in billions of chips from both Intel and AMD. AMD says its products aren’t vulnerable to the Foreshadow flaws, so this time it’s only Intel’s central processing unit chips that appear to be affected.
The downside: Foreshadow could let hackers mount “side channel” attacks that give them access to the portion of a chip’s core memory that holds things like passwords and encryption keys. Machines running in the computing cloud and handling workloads for lots of different customers could be particularly vulnerable to such attacks.
The (slightly) better news: The researchers who found the security holes gave Intel a heads-up months ago, so it has had time to prepare software patches to minimize the risk. With both Spectre and Meltdown, Intel had to scramble to take corrective action. Cloud computing vendors like Microsoft and Amazon have also been issuing notices about steps they’ve taken to minimize the threat Foreshadow poses to customers.
A lingering risk: Because Foreshadow, Spectre, and Meltdown are all hardware-based flaws, there’s no guaranteed fix short of swapping out the chips. But security experts say the weaknesses are incredibly hard to exploit and that there’s no evidence so far to suggest this year’s chipocalypse has led to a hacking spree. Still, if your computer offers you an urgent software upgrade, be sure to take it immediately.
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