TechTalk

Published on January 5th, 2018 | by Subhash Nair

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Why The Intel Meltdown and Spectre Problem Is So Scary and Scandalous

2018 is off to a horrible start. It turns out that just about every INTEL CPU for the last 20 YEARS is exposed to hacking on a hardware level. Yikes.

This is a complex and scandalous problem, so let’s try and break it down for the layperson.

  1. The Meltdown & Spectre problem
    Basically, there’s a bit in your PC/laptop’s processor called the kernel. In almost all Intel chips, it’s leaking memory. The memory leak allows hackers to access passwords and data. What’s more, they can delete, view, change, run programs and malicious software. This affects all major operating systems: Windows, Mac, and Linux. Anybody using an Intel processor is affected, be it a Core i3, i5, i7, i9, Xeon, Atom anything that runs on the X86/X86-64 architecture from the last 20 years. Here’s an article by pcworld.com that gets into specifics: Pc.world article.
  2. The Fix is also Problematic
    For Intel users this problem is on a hardware level. Windows users have to wait for update ‘KB4054022’ which should be out on the 9th of January 2018. But as this is a hardware level problem with a software level fix, there’s still a lot of worry involved. Plus, a lot of older and weaker processors may experience a performance slowdown as a result of this update, between 5-30%. But Intel say this really only will be for those running servers and data centres, as they tend to maximise the use of their processors a lot of the time. Consumer-grade chips should only see a little bit of a performance drop when maxing out demand. It’s worth noting that 4th generation Intel Core chips with PCID technology should not see much of a performance hit. You can identify this by looking at your CPU’s specific model number. It should look something like ‘i7-4790’. The ‘4’, there indicates it’s a 4th generation chip. If yours starts with a 3 or 2, or the name just has 3 digits (1st gen Intel Core processors) you may see some slowdowns.
  3. The CEO dumped a load of shares, knowing about this problem
    Google informed Intel in June 2017 about this problem. The public only found out about it a few days ago. This is not uncommon, as exposing the issue before a fix can be made would give hackers time to exploit the problem. The thing is, Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich knew about this information and ended up selling 10 times more stock and options than he usually does annually. Annually, it’s a practice for him to sell just 2.4 million worth of stock and options. This year, before revealing the problem to the public, he sold 24 million worth of stock and options. He retained just 250,000 shares. That’s enough for him to keep his job. Intel say it was all pre-arranged, and it’s probably not illegal. But it does look very suspicious, considering how massive this problem is.
  4. AMD and ARM processors
    It’s not just Intel processors that are vulnerable. ARM and AMD processors may have a software vulnerability, but on a hardware side, they do things differently. Plus, AMD uses something called Kernel Page Table Isolation to protect from these types of attacks. So the biggest difference is that the fix will be easier, and the vulnerability can only be exploited by someone with physical access to that computer.

So, in summary: there’s nothing you can do for now except make sure your browsers, anti virus and operating systems are updated. Make sure that January 9th update is installed on your Windows device.

If you’re really disturbed, you can switch over to an AMD system, which would mean forking out a bit of money for a new motherboard and CPU, possibly RAM and CPU cooler too if your computer is a little old.


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