Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Vulnerabilities / Threats

Newly Found Spectre Variants Bring New Concerns

Two new variants on a theme of Spectre underscore the expanding nature of the critical vulnerabilities.

The plague that is Spectre continues to evolve and adapt, showing up in two new variants this week dubbed Spectre 1.1 and Spectre 1.2 that follow the original Spectre's playbook while expanding on the ways they can do damage.

Researchers Vladimir Kiriansky of MIT and Carl Waldspurger of Carl Waldspurger Consulting discovered the new variants of the vulnerabilities in Intel microprocessors. The pair earned a $100,000 bug bounty from Intel for their responsible reporting of the new exploits, which was paid through HackerOne.

It's no surprise there are new variants on Spectre: Because of the fundamental nature of the flaw, it has been assumed that there will be a long stream of variations on the theme. The only good news on the new discoveries, says Eric Maurice, director of security assurance at Oracle in a blog post: "Fortunately, the conditions of exploitation for these issues remain similar: malicious exploitation requires the attackers to first obtain the privileges required to install and execute malicious code against the targeted systems."

Spectre 1.1

In the paper announcing the variants, Kiriansky and Waldspurger write that Spectre 1.1, "…leverages speculative stores to create speculative buffer over- flows." Unlike many of the Spectre variants that allow for threat actors to read protected memory, this buffer overflow presents the opportunity for arbitrary code execution on the affected system.

There are limits on the code execution, and the general concern is that attackers will be able to execute code that extracts data from secure memory, giving an attacker access to passwords, crypto keys, and other user authentication or data protection information.

Interestingly, the authors point out that defenses against Spectre 1.0 that use a brute-force and relatively inefficient method (a speculation barrier or lfence) would be effective against Spectre 1.1, while more efficient defenses would not.

Spectre 1.2

The second variant allows an attacker to bypass the Read/Write PTE flags if the enforcement on those flags is lax. The outcome of an exploit of this variant could ultimately allow malware to get out of a sandbox established for system security.

In many ways, Spectre 1.2 is related to Spectre 3, which is generally called Meltdown. Unfortunately, the hardware mitigations that are effective against Meltdown are not effective against Spectre 1.2.

At this time, companies including Microsoft and Red Hat say that they're looking into the new exploits to determine whether or not their products are affected. The researchers presented confirmation that both variants are effective against Intel and ARM processors.

Kiriansky and Waldspurger suggest hardware mitigations in their paper; none of the mitigations are steps that either software developers or end user organizations can take. As with the rest of the Spectre family, full mitigation is going to have to wait for a new generation of re-architected processors to emerge from vendors such as Intel and AMD.

A browser fix for a different Spectre

While the new variants were being announced, Google released a new version of the Chrome browser that mitigates some of the avenues for exploiting side-channel vulnerabilities. The Google mitigation implements what the company calls site isolation, preventing JavaScript code loaded from one website from executing on the edge device and accessing data associated with another site.

The new Chrome browser is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chrome OS and makes site isolation, which had been experimental and optional, the default setting for all browsers.

Related Content:

 

 

 

Black Hat USA returns to Las Vegas with hands-on technical Trainings, cutting-edge Briefings, Arsenal open-source tool demonstrations, top-tier security solutions and service providers in the Business Hall. Click for information on the conference and to register.

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Zero-Factor Authentication: Owning Our Data
Nick Selby, Chief Security Officer at Paxos Trust Company,  2/19/2020
44% of Security Threats Start in the Cloud
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  2/19/2020
Ransomware Damage Hit $11.5B in 2019
Dark Reading Staff 2/20/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
6 Emerging Cyber Threats That Enterprises Face in 2020
This Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at six emerging cyber threats that enterprises could face in 2020. Download your copy today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises Are Developing and Maintaining Secure Applications
How Enterprises Are Developing and Maintaining Secure Applications
The concept of application security is well known, but application security testing and remediation processes remain unbalanced. Most organizations are confident in their approach to AppSec, although others seem to have no approach at all. Read this report to find out more.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2014-7914
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-21
btif/src/btif_dm.c in Android before 5.1 does not properly enforce the temporary nature of a Bluetooth pairing, which allows user-assisted remote attackers to bypass intended access restrictions via crafted Bluetooth packets after the tapping of a crafted NFC tag.
CVE-2016-4606
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-21
Curl before 7.49.1 in Apple OS X before macOS Sierra prior to 10.12 allows remote or local attackers to execute arbitrary code, gain sensitive information, cause denial-of-service conditions, bypass security restrictions, and perform unauthorized actions. This may aid in other attacks.
CVE-2020-5243
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-21
uap-core before 0.7.3 is vulnerable to a denial of service attack when processing crafted User-Agent strings. Some regexes are vulnerable to regular expression denial of service (REDoS) due to overlapping capture groups. This allows remote attackers to overload a server by setting the User-Agent hea...
CVE-2019-14688
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-20
Trend Micro has repackaged installers for several Trend Micro products that were found to utilize a version of an install package that had a DLL hijack vulnerability that could be exploited during a new product installation. The vulnerability was found to ONLY be exploitable during an initial produc...
CVE-2019-19694
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-20
The Trend Micro Security 2019 (15.0.0.1163 and below) consumer family of products is vulnerable to a denial of service (DoS) attack in which a malicious actor could manipulate a key file at a certain time during the system startup process to disable the product's malware protection functions or the ...