If you're at all concerned about the implications of the Spectre and Meltdown security vulnerabilities on Intel (and other manufacturers) chips, then this news may give you a reason to delay your planned hardware upgrade.
What's The Issue?
At the beginning of this year, it was reported that Intel, AMD and ARM chips all had security flaws that allowed them to be vulnerable to the Spectre and Meltdown exploits and that the fix would likely have a performance impact on existing hardware. The Spectre vulnerability is so named as it exploits the Speculative Execution feature on modern chips. This is a kind of "look -ahead" that scouts out all the possible processing routes ahead of the main process happening. Spectre hijacks this look-ahead function, which then allows it to modify the main process.
There then followed what can only be described as an inconsistent position where, as this excellent article from The Register details, Intel had flipped between claiming there's nothing to worry about, to saying there will be a performance hit, to finally admitting that the issue has prompted a redesign of their chips. You can see why people have been getting confused - there have been fourteen updates on this issue alone in Intel's Press Centre.
Intel's Latest Response
In an editorial blog post this week, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced:
In addressing the vulnerabilities reported by Google Project Zero earlier this year, Intel and the technology industry have faced a significant challenge. Thousands of people across the industry have worked tirelessly to make sure we delivered on our collective priority: protecting customers and their data. But there is still work to do. The security landscape is constantly evolving and we know that there will always be new threats. This was the impetus for the Security-First Pledge I penned in January.
Today, I want to provide several updates that show continued progress to fulfill that pledge. First, we have now released microcode updates for 100 percent of Intel products launched in the past five years that require protection against the side-channel method vulnerabilities discovered by Google.
He goes on to explain:
With these updates now available, I encourage everyone to make sure they are always keeping their systems up-to-date. It’s one of the easiest ways to stay protected. While Variant 1 will continue to be addressed via software mitigations, we are making changes to our hardware design to further address the other two. We have redesigned parts of the processor to introduce new levels of protection through partitioning that will protect against both Variants 2 and 3.
He then reveals that the latest generation Intel processors are secure:
These changes will begin with our next-generation Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors (code-named Cascade Lake) as well as 8th Generation Intel® Core™ processors expected to ship in the second half of 2018. As we bring these new products to market, ensuring that they deliver the performance improvements people expect from us is critical. Our goal is to offer not only the best performance, but also the best secure performance.
This excellent video from Intel fully describes the issue and what Intel has done to try and mitigate it -
Stay Up To Date, Stay Secure
Updates for operating systems have been available for some time now and our advice is always to stay up to date with your system updates, anti-virus updates and to take a close look to see if this issue impacts your workflow. It could affect your decisions about when to do a hardware upgrade - on the plus side by holding off until the new chips are released, you'd be using the latest tech with all the latest future-proofing, but on the minus side, early adopters usually have to pay premium prices.
Tell Us What You Think
Have you experienced any issues since updating with the security fix? Does this news make you think again about upgrading? Let us know in the comments section below.