Researchers have found that Intel’s latest CPUs are still vulnerable to attacks by the malware, Spectre, that could prove to be quite as dangerous as previous versions.
The latest Spectre variants utilise speculation execution, an optimization technique used by modern CPUs, to potentially expose sensitive data through a side channel by observing the system
Speculative execution is a fundamental component of modern processors’ design. They speculatively execute instructions based on assumptions that are considered likely to be true. If the assumptions turn out to be valid, the execution continues, otherwise they are discarded.
The two latest exploits discovered so far:
Spectre 1.1: Bounds Check Bypass on Loads
Spectre Variant 1.1 uses speculative stores to create speculative buffer overflows.
This overflow issue in the CPU store cache could allow an attacker to write and execute malicious code that could be used to extract data from previously-secured CPU memory, this could include passwords, cryptographic keys, and other sensitive information.
Spectre1.2: Read-only Protection Bypass
Spectre variant 1.2 depends on lazy PTE enforcement, the same mechanism on which the earlier Meltdown variant relies.
This flaw could allow hackers to bypass the Read/Write PTE flags, which eventually will allow them to overwrite read-only data memory, code metadata, and code pointers to avoid sandboxes.
Intel have thanked the researchers that discovered these vulnerabilities and paid a bounty out $100,000 through its bug bounty program.
Should the new exploits concern you?
The new variants have been classified as a medium risk on the National Vulnerability database largely because of how complex it is to load the malicious code onto PCs. A specific list of affected CPUs is not yet available but ARM has stated they are affected and, even though they have not made a statement, AMD CPUs are likely impacted as well.
So, even with a medium risk rating, it pays to remain cautious and protect your PC and its data with good anti-virus tools, keeping all software patched, and practicing safe internet habits. You can access a copy of the Intel report here.
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