Intel Finishes Off Planned Spectre Bug Fixes With Westmere EX

/ 6 years ago

Intel Spectre

Intel Wraps Up Beta Testing Spectre Fixes

Last year, a number of nasty bugs surfaced for Intel CPUs. Dubbed Spectre, the exploits targetted the core of Intel CPUs, leading to expensive microcode updates to fix. Due to the complexity of the bug, the fixes have been slow in arrival. Fortunately for some more users, Intel is now releasing fixes for some more older chips. With the latest update, Xeon processors going back to Westmere EX will see microcode updates.

Spectre works by exploiting the CPU branch predictor. By making certain bad predictions, the flaw exposes other data in memory. This exposes data held by other programs which can be sensitive like passwords. Microsoft was the first to issue an fix by modifying the OS. This software fix led to heavy performance degradation with some specific workloads. To remedy the issue, Intel released a microcode update. This update changed the CPU behaviour and restored performance to good enough levels.

Intel Fixes Fall Short of Initial Promise

During the initial release for updates, Intel suggested that even very old chips would get the fix. Unfortunately, the company has regened on this promise, citing the cost and the low number of users. Even for Westmere and Nehalem, it is only the Xeon lineup that will see the fix. Mainstream consumer chips will still be left out in the cold. They will either have to upgrade, run unprotected or suffer performance loss. As a result, this is a problem for organizations and users who find that these chips are still viable for day to day office work.

With more side channel attacks popping up, long-term security is an increasing problem. This shines an important spotlight on firmware support which is often lacking. It’s a problem when even Intel, with all their resources, will not or cannot patch old hardware to face new threats. Therefore, as devices continue to age better as progress slows, support may become a critical factor in purchasing decisions.

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