Intel’s massive chip flaw could hit Mac where it hurts


Intel chips have a nasty secret.

Intel chips have a nasty secret.
Photo: Intel
A major security flaw discovered in Intel chips requires a software fix that could negatively impact the performance of your Mac. The “design blunder” affects all Intel chips produced in the last 10 years, according to one report.

Intel builds the finest processors for both consumer and professional machines. They’re the company of choice for most creatives, gamers, and major enterprises. But it seems that for years, Intel chips have been harboring a nasty secret.

Intel’s serious security flaw

A serious security flaw in all Intel chips produced over the last 10 years allows desktop programs to read parts of the protected kernel memory, according to a report from The Register. This can include data like passwords, login keys, and other sensitive information.

This is incredibly worrying for all users who choose Intel. It affects those running Windows, Linux, and macOS. Specific details aren’t yet known — they’re under embargo until the end of the month — but The Register has obtained some information.

“At worst, the hole could be abused by programs and logged-in users to read the contents of the kernel’s memory,” warns the report. “Suffice to say, this is not great.”

“The kernel’s memory space is hidden from user processes and programs because it may contain all sorts of secrets, such as passwords, login keys, files cached from disk, and so on. Imagine a piece of JavaScript running in a browser, or malicious software running on a shared public cloud server, able to sniff sensitive kernel-protected data.”

The fix will impact performance

The only fix for this problem is to isolate the kernel memory from user processes. This requires a practice called Kernel Page Table Isolation, which could cause a performance hit. Windows and Linux machines could suffer a 5- to 30-percent slowdown.

It is not yet clear what the impact might be under macOS.

Software updates for Windows and Linux are already in development, and although the report doesn’t mention Apple, it’s likely Cupertino is working on a fix, too. Once those roll out, we’ll have a greater understanding of the impact they will have.