Two Major Flaws Discovered in the World’s CPUs

It seems that 2018 is starting off with a bang, after The Register broke a story on two massive flaws discovered in most of the world’s processors.

Essentially, both flaws are based on the architecture and design choices made by most processor manufacturers like AMD and Intel. Specifically, these flaws deal with accessing the system’s privileged memory as part of the processor’s efficiency. It’s a bit complex and if you’re up for a bit of dry reading, you can check out Project Zero’s post about it, the team who originally found this vulnerability.

The short and sweet of it is that the chip’s kernel is leaking memory as part of its ‘speculative execution’, something that CPUs do to increase performance. Thousands of times a day, the OS switches between kernel mode and user mode. As part of that process, the manufacturers designers have designed the CPUs to expect certain kind of requests. Within that system lies the problem.

This memory leak could allow a potential hacker to access information without actually needing any of the passwords.

Now the first flaw, encouragingly called ‘meltdown’, is only effecting Intel processors. Thankfully, there is a fix, and Intel has already released a patch for both Linux and Windows. That would be great, except that this patch could possibly cause up to a 30% performance hit.

It isn’t all grim for gamers though. A Reddit user by the name of Laexe recently did some of his own tests on the patch. For better or for worse, it seems that we’re looking at a 5% hit on average, maybe 10% in select cases.

Not only that, but Phoronix has done one or two tests running Linux and an NVidia graphics card, and it seems like ‘Coffee Lake’ processors aren’t effected at all.

So all in all, gamers shouldn’t notice a significant decrease in performance. That being said, there’s always a rub. You see, we’ve only been talking about the first flaw: ‘Meltdown’, the second flaw is slightly more problematic.

Named ‘Spectre’ the second flaw, is within the hardware’s architecture and fundamental design itself. The kicker? This effects almost every processor that’s been manufactured in the last two decades. That means everything from your PC to you phones and everything in-between.

The fix? Well, there isn’t one. The only thing that can be done is to physically change out the processors with ones that have a completely new architecture to fix this issue. This could even potentially mean a full recall of nearly all processors.

If you’d like to read a bit more about this whole issue, The New York Times has a really good overview of the situation while PC World has a more detailed run-down for what it means to gamers.

Most importantly, please remember to update security patches as soon as they become live, whether it has to do with Meltdown, Spectre, or anything really.

On related news, there seems to be a possibility of insider trading by the CEO of Intel, Brian Krzanich. It seems that after Intel was made aware of the issues in their chips, Mr. Krzanich made $24 million through the sale of shares and stock options. While Intel claims that this action was pre-planned, some still question the timelines and the actual motives.

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