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Explainer: How chip flaws Spectre,
Meltdown work and what´s next

Reuters, by Paresh Dave

Original Article

Posted By:LittleHoodedMonk, 1/12/2018 2:31:08 AM

Las Vegas - Smartphones, PCs and servers across the world have received software updates in recent days to plug security gaps on computer chips that cyber security researchers have described as the most serious threat in years. Researchers identified the problem last year, shared details with chip manufacturers last summer, and then made a public announcement Jan. 3. What is the problem? The vulnerabilities, known as Meltdown and Spectre, can allow passwords and other sensitive data on chips to be read. The flaws result from the way computers try to guess what users are likely to do next, a process called speculative

Comments:
I probably shouldn´t be asking, but someone high up in in our government should. That is, what about our military systems and satellites that probably use these chips? Bueller? A much more detailed analysis & updates:

"Windows Meltdown-Spectre update: Some AMD PC owners post crash reports"

http://www.zdnet.com/article/windows-meltdown-spectre-update-now-some-amd-pc-owners-post-crash-reports/

      


Post Reply  

Reply 1 - Posted by: EuroTim, 1/12/2018 4:13:45 AM     (No. 11507556)

That was an “explainer”? I know less than I did before I read it

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Reply 2 - Posted by: plex, 1/12/2018 9:24:45 AM     (No. 11507760)

From what I have learned these attacks depend on accurate timing of instructions issued after an if statement (a branch instruction).
During program operation, the computer learns the most likely branch to take and will speculatively execute that branch every time the if statement is encountered. If the the result of the if statement is different, the results of the speculation are discarded, except! what is in the cache.

If the speculated instructions reference protected memory the contents will be left in the cache and clever code can determine the contents by timing instructions that reference data which might be in the cache.
The details are very geeky.

If the protected memory was referenced by non speculated instructions a protection violation would result with no data in the cache.

There are two basic problems here. 1. the cancelling of the speculative instructions does not clear the affected cache, 2. the speculative execution does not honor the memory protection status.

The website attack can be thwarted by fuzzing the clock values available to javascript. This is easy and Mozilla has sent updates to do that.

The kernel problem can be fixed by altering the way the operating system maps virtual memory. The fix is to remove a shortcut in the kernel which will have some impact on performance.

Those running old kernels will likely not get updates to fix this. There is a rumor that MacOS 10.13 already has the kernel fix.

I hope this helps a little bit. There are published papers that go into great detail.

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Reply 3 - Posted by: Hotrod, 1/12/2018 9:52:11 AM     (No. 11507793)

I have always advised against storing passwords, account numbers and other sensitive data on any device. The convenience does not outweigh the consequences.

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Reply 4 - Posted by: toddh, 1/12/2018 9:52:43 AM     (No. 11507794)

We do not trust the media because they are idiots!

"can allow passwords and other sensitive data on chips to be read"

The data does not need to be on the chip.

"computers try to guess what users are likely to do next, a process called speculative execution"

The computer is trying to predict what *it* should do next, not what the *user* is going to do next.

#2 gets it right.

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Reply 5 - Posted by: jimjr, 1/12/2018 11:03:50 AM     (No. 11507885)

#2, that´s the best description I have read, including a number of articles form "technical" sources.

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