Reuters - Security researchers on Wednesday disclosed a set of security flaws that they said could let hackers steal sensitive information from nearly every modern computing device containing chips from Intel Corp, Advanced Micro Devices Inc and ARM Holdings.
One of the bugs is specific to Intel but another affects laptops, desktop computers, smartphones, tablets and internet servers alike. Intel and ARM insisted that the issue was not a design flaw, but it will require users to download a patch and update their operating system to fix.
“Phones, PCs, everything are going to have some impact, but it’ll vary from product to product,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said in an interview with CNBC Wednesday afternoon.
Researchers with Alphabet Inc’s Google Project Zero, in conjunction with academic and industry researchers from several countries, discovered two flaws.
The first, called Meltdown, affects Intel chips and lets hackers bypass the hardware barrier between applications run by users and the computer’s memory, potentially letting hackers read a computer’s memory and steal passwords. The second, called Spectre, affects chips from Intel, AMD and ARM and lets hackers potentially trick otherwise error-free applications into giving up secret information.
The researchers said Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp had patches ready for users for desktop computers affected by Meltdown. Microsoft declined to comment and Apple did not immediately return requests for comment.
Daniel Gruss, one of the researchers at Graz University of Technology who discovered Meltdown, called it “probably one of the worst CPU bugs ever found” in an interview with Reuters.
Gruss said Meltdown was the more serious problem in the short term but could be decisively stopped with software patches. Spectre, the broader bug that applies to nearly all computing devices, is harder for hackers to take advantage of but less easily patched and will be a bigger problem in the long term, he said.
Speaking on CNBC, Intel’s Krzanich said Google researchers told Intel of the flaws “a while ago” and that Intel had been testing fixes that device makers who use its chips will push out next week. Before the problems became public, Google on its blog said Intel and others planned to disclose the issues on January 9. Google said it informed the affected companies about the “Spectre” flaw on June 1, 2017 and reported the “Meltdown” flaw after the first flaw but before July 28, 2017.
The flaws were first reported by tech publication The Register. It also reported that the updates to fix the problems could causes Intel chips to operate 5% to 30% more slowly.