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Vulnerabilities / Threats

1/22/2018
06:16 PM
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Intel Says to Stop Applying Problematic Spectre, Meltdown Patch

Cause of reboot problems with its Broadwell and Haswell microprocessor patching now identified, the chipmaker said.

Intel is now advising its customers and partners to halt the installation of patches for its Broadwell and Haswell microprocessor systems in the wake of recent reports of reboot problems. 

Navin Shenoy, executive vice president and general manager of the Data Center Group at Intel, today said in a post that Intel soon will be issuing a fix for the patch. In the meantime, he says customers should refrain from applying the problematic patches.

"We recommend that OEMs, cloud service providers, system manufacturers, software vendors, and end users stop deployment of current versions, as they may introduce higher than expected reboots and other unpredictable system behavior," he said.

Word that customers were experiencing higher system reboot problems began circulating earlier this month, and Intel issued an advisory  about the problem on Jan. 11.

"We have now identified the root cause for Broadwell and Haswell platforms, and made good progress in developing a solution to address it. Over the weekend, we began rolling out an early version of the updated solution to industry partners for testing, and we will make a final release available once that testing has been completed," he said.

Intel early this month issued updates for most of its modern microprocessors after researchers from Google's Project Zero Team, Cyberus Technology, Graz University of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, the University of Maryland, Rambus, and University of Adelaide and Data61, all discovered critical flaws in a method used for performance optimization that could allow an attacker to read sensitive system memory, which could contain passwords, encryption keys, and emails, for example. The vulnerabilities affect CPUs from Intel, AMD, and ARM.

The so-called Meltdown and Spectre hardware vulnerabilities allow for so-called side-channel attacks: in the case of Meltdown, that means sensitive information in the kernel memory is at risk of being accessed nefariously, and for Spectre, a user application could read the kernel memory as well as that of another application. So an attacker could read sensitive system memory, which could contain passwords, encryption keys, and emails – and use that information to help craft a local attack.

Intel recommends that customers and OEMs refer to its Intel.com Security Center site for more details on the fix for the Spectre and Meltdown fix.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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BrianN060
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BrianN060,
User Rank: Ninja
1/23/2018 | 1:10:27 AM
What's the score?
The DR staff are better informed than I am; but has any of the cost and chaos of Meltdown/Spectre mitigation yet been shown to have thwarted a single attempted explotation?  Put another way, have those that haven't bothered to lift a finger to prevent M/S exploitation paid the price for their indifference?  One more question: how would you rate the handling of the M/S issue, from first discovery of the vulnerabilities, to the press leaks, public announcement, vendor reaction and community response - so far?
RyanSepe
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RyanSepe,
User Rank: Ninja
1/23/2018 | 8:20:21 AM
Re: What's the score?
That's a good question that I would be interested in as well. Although this vulnerability affects a majority of devices the greatest risk, outside of affected DMZ devices, are users already inside of your network. Essentially it allows for persistent listeners to take advantage of an easy exploit when it may have taken them a while to figure out how to traverse the network.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
1/23/2018 | 11:06:31 PM
Re: What's the score?
@Brian: The chaos stems more from the fact of the existence of the vulnerability. I'm not really sure that the question is well-founded given that the flaw is desperately serious.

Sure, risk management is all about assessing likelihood just as well as severity, but in this case severity is so high that it overshadows any probability rating that any accepted threat model could slap on it.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
1/23/2018 | 11:08:16 PM
Re: What's the score?
@Ryan: Yeah, but the thing is that many attacks really are "insider attacks" because even so many "outsider" attacks require compromising "insider" credentials. So it's a matter of treating this holistically and in depth as opposed to an "M&M security" approach (hard on the outside, soft in the middle).
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
1/23/2018 | 11:10:08 PM
Patches beget patches
This is grossly unfortunate because the very reason many people are wary of updates that are non-security or partial-security related is because of severe bugs that are usually hiding in a rushed rollout (q.v. iOS). To see this in the strictly security patch context where the severity is so high is particularly disheartening and may cause people to take the issue less seriously, I wonder.
BrianN060
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BrianN060,
User Rank: Ninja
1/24/2018 | 12:38:29 AM
Re: What's the score?
@Joe: "The chaos stems more from the fact of the existence of the vulnerability." From the existence, or the manner of itheir being made public?  The vulnerabilities (or the design decisions which would become vulnerabilities once cyber-technologies and use patterns would make them such), existed for decades.  Not being an insider, I only became aware of the issue with the media disclosure (and via sites like DR).  That's when the chaos began.

I wasn't talking about balancing likelihood against severity (akin to gambling, in my opinion), but the realized cost of the uncoordinated efforts at mitigation, against as yet unobserved exploitation.  It didn't have to play out like this. 

To your other points: agreed - the bungled and disjointed patches and updates are unfortunate, for the reasons you mentioned. 

Your comments @Ryan: also agreed - a holistic approach is required; especially as attacks become more sophisticated and use multiple vectors. 
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
1/24/2018 | 9:48:30 PM
Re: What's the score?
@Brian: Well, sure, technically, it is the awareness of an issue that presents a problem more directly than the problem itself. Scrodinger's Vulnerability, I suppose.

But, of course, for all anyone knows, the vulnerability has already been exploited in the wild (and, if so, very possibly even by nation-state actors, who would probably be the best poised to have known about the vulnerability and have done so -- especially without you finding out about it).

Sure, good coordination has to go into vulnerabilty announcements and patch processes, but because this particular vulnerability is so disastrous and severe, it would be hard for much of the population to not take a Chicken Little approach here. It's a pretty bad vulnerability.
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