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article imageIntel details plans for Meltdown and Spectre hardware protections

By James Walker     Mar 16, 2018 in Technology
Intel has announced that its upcoming silicon architectures will include hardware fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre chip vulnerabilities. The company has redesigned parts of its processors to add "protective walls" between apps and malicious actors.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced the changes in a company blog post this week. His news confirms that Intel will be introducing hardware fixes for Meltdown and Spectre. Some industry professionals had suggested the company could continue to rely on firmware updates until all-new architectures are launched.
According to Krzanich, future Intel hardware will come with improved partitioning to defend against Meltdown and Spectre variants. The addition of new protections will make it more difficult for attackers to exploit the vulnerabilities and obtain access to memory.
Intel hasn't revealed technical details of how the safeguards will be implemented. However, the company said it's aiming to address variants 2 and 3 of the attacks using the hardware defences.
Meltdown and Spectre actually describe three distinct weaknesses in the design of modern silicon products. Of these, variant 1 is proving to be the most difficult to patch. Krzanich didn't state whether Intel is working to implement hardware protections for variant 1. The flaw will continue to be addressed by software mitigations until researchers can devise a way to address the architectural issues.
READ NEXT: Microsoft expands Windows Meltdown and Spectre patches
Intel has been criticised for its response to Meltdown and Spectre. Since the disclosure of the problems in January, the company has been slow to communicate with customers and partners. It's also released buggy software patches which it later admitted could cause damage to devices.
The company has now released functioning microcode updates for all of its products launched during the past five years. This week, Microsoft confirmed it will begin to start issuing the patches to more Windows customers.
Krzanich said Intel is committed to maintaining the security of its silicon. He insisted that ensuring the integrity and performance of Intel products is "critical" to the company. Writing in his blog post, he said Intel is continuing to work on further fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities. The company's also preparing patches for a broader selection of its existing hardware.
"Our work is not done. This is not a singular event; it is a long-term commitment. One that we take very seriously," said Krzanich. "Customer-first urgency, transparent and timely communications, and ongoing security assurance. This is our pledge, and it's what you can count on from me, and from all of Intel."
Intel will release its first hardware protections for Meltdown and Spectre with its next-generation "Cascade Lake" Xeon chips later this year. The company will also introduce the fixes to its 8th-generation Core processors used in consumer devices. Software patches are in the works for CPU families dating all the way back to 2007.
More about Intel, Meltdown, Spectre, Cybersecurity, Processors
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