On Wednesday, the security researchers have disclosed a major security flaw in Intel processors that could allow hackers to access sensitive information such as passwords, security keys and important files on the disk. This has led to a major redesign of the Linux and Windows Kernels to fix the chip-level security bug, but it could also affect the performance of the computers after the bug fix.
However, the specifics about the exploit have been kept a secret between the hardware and software vendors so that the attackers won’t get exact details of the information. Moreover, the comments in the source code of the patches for the Linux kernel have been redacted to make them unclear to the hackers.
According to the researchers, the security bug could be present in all the Intel chips manufactured in the past 10 years. Although the most of the details of the flaw has been made confidential, a few details were disclosed which suggests that the bug allows low-privileged programs and regular apps to access the content of the kernel memory area. The kernel is said to have the highest level of permissions in the operating system and connects the apps to the memory, processor and other hardware inside the computer.
To fix this problem, the Linux programmers are separating the kernel’s memory completely from the user processes using a method called Kernel Page Table Isolation, or KPT. However, the problem with this separation is that it is really expensive, and the constant switching between the two separate address spaces for every system call could increase the kernel overhead eventually slowing down the computer. The Register reports that the decrease in the performance could be between 5-30% depending on the Intel processor.
The patches for Linux have been rolling out over the past month while Microsoft is expected to deliver the update in its upcoming patch on Tuesday as the company started testing the changes in November. The other operating system affected is Apple’s 64-bit macOS as the flaw is in the Intel x86-64 hardware. Although Apple deployed a minor update, the company will issue more changes in the upcoming 10.3.3 soon.
For a detailed description of the security flaw, read the report posted by the Register. And watch this space for more updates on the patches for Meltdown and Spectre.