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Major 'design flaw' in Intel processors exposes your passwords to hackers and slows down your PC by 30%

Major 'design flaw' in Intel processors exposes your passwords to hackers and slows down your PC by 30%
Marian Vejcik | Dreamstime.com

Heads up! If you own a computer or laptop with an Intel chip, there's a good chance it will get a significant performance hit, up 5 to 30 percent slower, in the next few weeks. And the worse part is this - there's nothing you can do about it.

Why? Well, a critical design flaw was discovered in Intel processing chips that could let attackers gain access to protected kernel memory areas and steal sensitive information like passwords, login data, security keys and files that are still cached on your computer's disk. A critical fix is on its way but it has an unfortunate side effect.

Serious flaw in Intel chips you need to know about

According to "The Register," the flaw is so fundamental to how Intel chips work that it forced a major redesign of the Linux and Windows kernels. In effect, the redesign has the unfortunate side effect of slowing down the processors themselves.

Intel is understandably keeping mum about the details of the flaw and has neglected to release a list of the affected chips until the updates are issued. However, if you have a computer running an Intel chip that was manufactured over the past 10 years, chances are, you will receive this patch.

Once rolled out, these software updates are required for Windows, MacOS and Linux machines. Linux patches are already available and the Windows fix will be likely included in this month's Microsoft Patch Tuesday Updates. Note: According to some reports, Apple already addressed this flaw in macOS 10.13.2.

Although details of the flaw are still scarce, it is believed to be so critical that it can allow an attacker to use even a small piece of browser JavaScript code to steal sensitive kernel protected data.

The fix has an unfortunate side effect

Kernels are so integral to an operating system that they have complete control over it, connecting software to various parts of a computer, like the processor, memory and other hardware. Any flaw that affects the kernel should be addressed immediately.

To fix this particular flaw, the kernel's memory has to be separated from user processes completely (known as Kernel Page Table Isolation). The downside - this isolation will slow down your Intel-based computer.

Now, since this flaw affects Intel-powered computers as far back as a decade ago, we're expecting performance hits for millions and millions of computers globally, including Intel-powered servers that are utilized by services like Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook.

It may sound far-fetched but think about how many Intel computers and servers are out there. Will huge areas of the internet slow down because of this patch? It's certainly a possibility, at least for the time being.

How about AMD chips?

If your computer is powered by an AMD processor instead, then you're safe from this flaw. AMD has confirmed that its chips are not vulnerable to this security flaw and are not subject to these types of attacks.

What can you do?

Unfortunately, this is a really big serious flaw that needs to be patched so if you have an Intel-powered machine, just monitor your computer's performance and see if it adversely affects your tasks.

For now, consider the performance hit brought by the patch as a bitter pill to swallow in the name of your computer's security.

How can you tell if you have an Intel chip?

Here's how to check if your computer has an Intel chip:

Windows 10: On your search bar, type "System Information" then select the best match. Under System Summary, check the "Processor" section to see what kind of chip your system has.

Other Windows systems: Click on Start then right-click on "My Computer" or "This PC". Click on "Properties" and your chip will be listed under "Processor" in the "System" section.

Macs: Click on the Apple logo on the left side of your top menu bar then select "About This Mac." Along with your macOS version and other hardware specs, your chip type is listed under "Processor".

Update 1/4/2018: Another variant of this flaw has been revealed and this one affects all chips, including ones from ARM and AMD. Click here to read more about it.

Security flaw in web browser autofill tools can steal your data

Speaking of flaws, here's another unrelated threat you need to know about. Browser autofilling is one of the conveniences of modern web browsers. But you have to read about this latest flaw that can turn this convenience into a tool that can track you and even steal your information! Click here to read more about this threat.

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Source: The Register
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