Windows users whose PCs run on Intel processors can apparently expect their computers to slow down after next Tuesday. In fact, all computers using modern Intel chips – whether they run Windows, Linux or macOS – are expected to suffer a performance hit in the coming days.
The reason for this unwelcome change is a fundamental design flaw discovered in Intel’s processor chips, more specifically in the Intel x86-64 hardware, which will have to be fixed through a change in the software (i.e. at the OS level) and will ultimately impact the responsiveness of the CPUs.
About the security hole
Details about the flaw are still under wraps, but some of the leaked information and a peak into the changes made to the open source Linux kernel’s virtual memory system indicate that it seriously affects the security of the systems running on the flawed Intel’s chips.
“The fix is to separate the kernel’s memory completely from user processes using what’s called Kernel Page Table Isolation, or KPTI. These KPTI patches move the kernel into a completely separate address space, so it’s not just invisible to a running process, it’s not even there at all. Really, this shouldn’t be needed, but clearly there is a flaw in Intel’s silicon that allows kernel access protections to be bypassed in some way.”
In theory, this vulnerability could be exploited to defeat the kernel address space layout randomization protection (KASLR), allowing malware to place – and later find and make use of – components in the kernel’s virtual memory. Also, it might be possible for malicious programs to read the contents of the kernel’s memory, and thus gain access to passwords and other sensitive data.
The reporters also pointed to an explanation offered by AMD software engineer Tom Lendacky on why AMD processors are not affected by this flaw, and posited that the underlying problem might be in the Intel processors’ use of speculative execution.
Who will be affected?
The necessary patches for the Linux kernel have already been provided, and it is expected that Microsoft will provide them next week, as part of its monthly Patch Tuesday.
It is still unknown when Apple will push out macOS updates that plug the hole.
Big cloud providers like Amazon and Microsoft have scheduled security and maintenance updates for later this week and on Monday, and it is believed that they will include the implementation of these patches.
Still, it’s to early to tell just how much slower will users’ computers get after the implementation of the patches.