We often hear about software viruses and bugs but hard drive vulnerabilities are rare. This is one reason why Intel’s processor chip flaw has gained attention. But other reasons are also attention worthy: the flaw can be exploited in dangerous ways and the fix can hurt productivity.
The flaw resides in the processer’s core or kernel. Since the kernel controls a computer’s essential functions any fix that designers create to circumvent the flaw will slow down a computer’s processing speed. It is important to remember that Intel chips are elements in practically every computer’s operating system, whether Linux, Windows or macOS. A recent TechCrunch article states, “if your computer seems slower than it should be, it’s because it is.”
While the slowdown is inconvenient and will take a toll on productivity, the Kernel Page Table Isolation fix might be worth the cost. The kernel is designed to manage and control access to every application and program on your computer’s system. Without the patch, the kernel’s memory is compromised. This means that your, or your organization’s, passwords and other vital information can be accessible to others. Once someone finds a way in, they have access to everything, from your computer’s keyboard to cameras and secure software.
Bad actors gain entry to the kernel when they are able to install a regular program. Once installed, the program exploits the gateway to the kernel, allowing individuals without authorization to access other files and programs. One area of concern is the cloud. Cloud hosting services use the same hardware for multiple clients. If one client were able to access the shared hardware, then it is possible for that client to make their way into the private information stored for other clients.
The flaw was discovered late last year and Microsoft came up with a patch in November, while Apple is still working on theirs. The flaw hasn’t received a great deal of attention because the bug is under embargo. Now that a fix is forthcoming, some information has been released. While it is now known that there is a flaw and that it can be exploited, there is no information available on the specific design flaw.
What is known is that your computer’s processor will run slower if it runs on Intel processor chips. According to Intel competitor AMD, their processors do not contain the flaw and are not vulnerable.