A new category of vulnerability has been identified in Intel processors, according to computer security researchers announced Tuesday. The flaws could allow to intercept confidential information through the processor.
ZombieLoad is an auxiliary channel attack that exploits four bugs on almost every Intel processor since 2011.
According to TechCrunch, ZombieLoad takes its name from “zombie charges”, which are made up of a quantity of data that the processor is unable to process properly. When these zombie loads appear, the processor must use its embedded code to avoid a failure. Embedded code is the program installed on the processor by Intel, to its manufacture.
Normally, the appearance of a zombie load is not a problem, but in the case of a ZombieLoad attack, the data of the software being processed can leak out of the processor and be read by other applications.
The team working on ZombieLoad has demonstrated that this attack can be used to see which websites a person is viewing live. According to these experts, ZombieLoad could also be used to steal passwords or access tokens ( token access ), identifiers used by different systems to authenticate an online user.
Personal computers and cloud servers running virtual machines may be affected by this attack.
Intel’s quick reaction
The researchers secretly reported the flaws in Intel a month ago and the manufacturer issued an updated on-board code update of the affected processors on Tuesday to protect users.
Intel processor models affected:
- Sandy Bridge
- Kaby Lake
- Coffee Lake
- Whiskey Lake
- Cascade Lake
Although a huge number of computers around the world are potentially affected, ordinary people should not worry too much. ZombieLoad is a complex attack requiring a high level of computer knowledge and special conditions in order to be executed.
It is nevertheless strongly recommended to carry out immediately the update proposed by Intel to reduce the risks.
Computer makers and software developers – including Apple, Microsoft, and Google – have also been offering updates since Tuesday to help their customers guard against an attack.
Intel told TechCrunch that CPU performance could be negatively affected by the update, but most users should not notice a difference. For personal computers, the drop in performance should be around 3%, while servers could see their processing speed decrease by 9%.
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