When details of the Meltdown and Spectre CPU security vulnerabilities emerged last month, the researchers involved hinted that further exploits may be developed beyond the early proof-of-concept examples.
It didn’t take long. In a research paper – “MeltdownPrime and SpectrePrime: Automatically-Synthesized Attacks Exploiting Invalidation-Based Coherence Protocols” – out this month, bit boffins from Princeton University and chip designer Nvidia describe variants of Meltdown and Spectre exploit code that can be used to conduct side-channel timing attacks.
In short, the team have discovered new ways for malware to extract sensitive information, such as passwords and other secrets, from a vulnerable computer’s memory by exploiting the Meltdown and Spectre design blunders in modern processors. The software mitigations being developed and rolled out to thwart Meltdown and Spectre attacks, which may bring with them performance hits, will likely stop these new exploits.
Crucially, however, changes to the underlying hardware probably will not: that is to say, whatever Intel and its rivals are working on right now to rid their CPU blueprints of these vulnerabilities may not be enough. These fresh exploits attack flaws deeply embedded within modern chip architecture that will be difficult to engineer out.
Before you panic: don’t. No exploit code has been released.
Submitted by: Arnfried Walbrecht