Tag Archives: Intel

Meltdown and Spectre, behind the first security hole discovered in 2018

The security flaw affects virtually every operating system, in particular those based on Intel, AMD and ARM processors.

2018 could not have had a worse start from a cyber-security perspective as, yesterday, a major security hole was found in Intel, AMD and ARM processors.  The critical flaw discovered in the affected computers’ architecture and operating system has rocked the technology industry, and developers around the world have rushed to roll out fixes.

The vulnerability, leveraged by the Meltdown exploit on Intel systems, is particularly worrying as it can lead to exfiltration of sensitive data such as login credentials, email messages, photos and other documents. It enables attackers to use a malicious process run at user level on the affected workstation or server in order to read other processes’ memory, even that of high-privileged kernel processes.

The flaw can hit home users and virtually every company, as Spectre affects all kinds of computers: desktops, laptops, Android smartphones, on-premises servers, cloud servers, etc. The more critical information handled by a potential victim, the greater the risk to suffer the attack.

Microsoft and Linux have already released updates for their  customers security. We’d like to inform our customers and partners that the tests carried out by Panda Security show that there are no compatibility conflicts between our endpoint security solutions and Microsoft’s security update.

At present, there is no evidence of public security attacks leveraging the flaw, but judging from past experience, it is not at all improbable that we may witness an avalanche of Trojans and spam campaigns attempting to exploit the vulnerability.

How to mitigate the vulnerability

Newer generation processors are not affected by the flaw, however, replacing all vulnerable systems is not a viable option at this time.

For that reason, the only possible countermeasure at this stage is to mitigate the vulnerability at operating system level. Microsoft and Linux are working on or have patches ready that prevent the exploitation of this hardware bug, with Linux being the first vendor to release a fix.

Microsoft, which initially planned to include a patch in the security update scheduled for Tuesday January 9, released a fix yesterday that is already available on the most popular operating systems and will be gradually deployed to all other systems. For more information, please visit this page.

It is worth mentioning that Microsoft’s security patch is only downloaded to target computers provided a specific registry entry is found on the system. This mechanism is designed to allow for a gradual update of systems coordinated with security software vendors. This way, computers will only be updated once it has been confirmed that there is no compatibility issue between the patch and the current security product.

Technical Support

For more information, please refer to the following technical support article . There you will find detailed information about the Microsoft patch validation process, how to manually trigger the patch download, and the way our products will be gradually updated to allow the automatic download of the new security patch just as with any other update.

We’d also like to encourage you to find detailed information about Microsoft’s security update and the potential impact it can have on desktop, laptop and server performance.

Finally, Microsoft, Mozilla and Google have warned of the possibility that the attackers may try to exploit these bugs via their Web browsers (Edge, Firefox and Chrome), and that temporary workarounds will be released over the next few days to prevent such possibility.  We recommend that you enable automatic updates or take the appropriate measures to have your desktops, laptops and servers properly protected.

Cyber-Security recommendations

Additionally, Panda recommends that you implement the following best security practices:

  • Keep your operating systems, security systems and all other applications always up to date to prevent security incidents.
  • Do not open email messages or files coming from unknown sources. Raise awareness among users, employees and contractors about the importance of following this recommendation.
  • Do not access insecure Web pages or pages whose content has not been verified. Raise awareness among home and corporate users about the importance of following this recommendation.
  • Protect all your desktops, laptops and servers with a security solution that continually monitors the activity of every program and process run in your organization, only allowing trusted files to run and immediately responding to any anomalous or malicious behavior.

Panda Security recommends all companies to adopt Panda Adaptive Defense 360, the only solution capable of providing such high protection levels with its managed security services. Discover how Panda Adaptive Defense 360 and its services can protect you from these and any future attacks.

Customers using our Panda Security home use solutions  also enjoy maximum protection as they feed off the malware intelligence leveraged by Panda Adaptive Defense 360, as shown in the latest independent comparative reviews. The protection capabilities of Panda Security’s technologies and protection model are demonstrated in the third-party tests conducted by such prestigious laboratories as AV-Comparatives.

How do these vulnerabilities affect Panda Security’s cloud services?

Cloud servers where multiple applications and sensitive data run simultaneously are a primary target for attacks designed to exploit these hardware security flaws.

In this respect, we’d like to inform our customers and channel partners that the cloud platforms that host Panda Security’s products and servers, Azure and Amazon, are managed platforms which were properly updated on January 3, and are therefore protected against any security attack that takes advantage of these vulnerabilities.

What effect do these vulnerabilities have on AMD and ARM processors?  

Despite the Meltdown bug seems to be limited to Intel processors, Spectre also affects ARM processors on Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, as well as on other devices.

Google’s Project Zero team was the first one to inform about the Spectre flaw on June 1, 2017, and reported the Meltdown bug before July 28, 2017. The latest Google security patch, released in December 2017, included mitigations to ‘limit the attack on all known variants on ARM processors.’

Also, the company noted that exploitation was difficult and limited on the majority of Android devices, and that the newest models, such as Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8, were already protected. All other vendors must start rolling out their own security updates in the coming weeks.

The risk is also small on unpatched Android smartphones since, even though a hacker could potentially steal personal information from a trusted application on the phone, they would have to access the targeted device while it is unlocked as Spectre cannot unlock it remotely.

Apple’s ARM architecture chips are also affected, which means that the following iPhone models are potentially vulnerable: iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5 and iPhone 5C. Apple has not released any statements regarding this issue, so it is possible that they managed to fix the flaw in a previous iOS version or when designing the chip.

As for the consequences and countermeasures for AMD processors, these are not clear yet, as the company has explained that its processors are not affected by the Spectre flaw.

We’ll keep you updated as new details emerge.


The post Meltdown and Spectre, behind the first security hole discovered in 2018 appeared first on Panda Security Mediacenter.

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Don’t be afraid of a ‘Meltdown’ with the new Microsoft update

Don’t be afraid of a ' Meltdown ' with the new Microsoft update

Don’t be afraid of a ‘Meltdown’ with the new Microsoft update
Avira is fully compatible with the new Microsoft patch for the Meltdown vulnerability

The Meltdown hardware vulnerability lets a hacker misuse a program so they can see what other programs and the operating system are doing, giving them the ability to see things like saved passwords or browser history. Microsoft has rolled out its patch — and Avira is fully compatible with it.

The post Don’t be afraid of a ‘Meltdown’ with the new Microsoft update appeared first on Avira Blog.

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Meltdown and Spectre CPU Flaws Affect Intel, ARM, AMD Processors


Unlike the initial reports suggested about Intel chips being vulnerable to some severe ‘memory leaking’ flaws, full technical details about the vulnerabilities have now been emerged, which revealed that almost every modern processor since 1995 is vulnerable to the issues.

Disclosed today by Google Project Zero, the vulnerabilities potentially impact all major CPUs, including those from AMD, ARM, and Intel—threatening almost all PCs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, regardless of manufacturer or operating system.

These hardware vulnerabilities have been categorized into two attacks, named Meltdown (CVE-2017-5754) and Spectre (CVE-2017-5753 and CVE-2017-5715), which could allow attackers to steal sensitive data which is currently processed on the computer.

Both attacks take advantage of a feature in chips known as “speculative execution,” a technique used by most modern CPUs to optimize performance.

“In order to improve performance, many CPUs may choose to speculatively execute instructions based on assumptions that are considered likely to be true. During speculative execution, the processor is verifying these assumptions; if they are valid, then the execution continues. If they are invalid, then the execution is unwound, and the correct execution path can be started based on the actual conditions,” Project Zero says.

Therefore, it is possible for such speculative execution to have “side effects which are not restored when the CPU state is unwound and can lead to information disclosure,” which can be accessed using side-channel attacks.

Meltdown Attack

The first issue, Meltdown (paper), allows attackers to read not only kernel memory but also the entire physical memory of the target machines, and therefore all secrets of other programs and the operating system.

“Meltdown is a related microarchitectural attack which exploits out-of-order execution in order to leak the target’s physical memory.”

Meltdown uses speculative execution to break the isolation between user applications and the operating system, allowing any application to access all system memory, including memory allocated for the kernel.

“Meltdown exploits a privilege escalation vulnerability specific to Intel processors, due to which speculatively executed instructions can bypass memory protection.”

Nearly all desktop, laptop, and cloud computers affected by Meltdown.

Spectre Attack


The second problem, Spectre (paper), is not easy to patch and will haunt people for quite some time since this issue requires changes to processor architecture in order to fully mitigate.

Spectre attack breaks the isolation between different applications, allowing the attacker-controlled program to trick error-free programs into leaking their secrets by forcing them into accessing arbitrary portions of its memory, which can then be read through a side channel.

Spectre attacks can be used to leak information from the kernel to user programs, as well as from virtualization hypervisors to guest systems.

“In addition to violating process isolation boundaries using native code, Spectre attacks can also be used to violate browser sandboxing, by mounting them via portable JavaScript code. We wrote a JavaScript program that successfully reads data from the address space of the browser process running it.” the paper explains.

“KAISER patch, which has been widely applied as a mitigation to the Meltdown attack, does not protect against Spectre.”

According to researchers, this vulnerability impacts almost every system, including desktops, laptops, cloud servers, as well as smartphones—powered by Intel, AMD, and ARM chips.

What You Should Do: Mitigations And Patches

Many vendors have security patches available for one or both of these attacks.

  • Windows — Microsoft has issued an out-of-band patch update for Windows 10, while other versions of Windows will be patched on the traditional Patch Tuesday on January 9, 2018
  • MacOS — Apple had already fixed most of these security holes in macOS High Sierra 10.13.2 last month, but MacOS 10.13.3 will enhance or complete these mitigations.
  • Linux — Linux kernel developers have also released patches by implementing kernel page-table isolation (KPTI) to move the kernel into an entirely separate address space.
  • Android — Google has released security patches for Pixel/Nexus users as part of the Android January security patch update.  Other users have to wait for their device manufacturers to release a compatible security update.

Mitigations for Chrome Users

Since this exploit can be executed through the website, Chrome users can turn on Site Isolation feature on their devices to mitigate these flaws.
Here’s how to turn Site Isolation on Windows, Mac, Linux, Chrome OS or Android:
  • Copy chrome://flags/#enable-site-per-process and paste it into the URL field at the top of your Chrome web browser, and then hit the Enter key.
  • Look for Strict Site Isolation, then click the box labeled Enable.
  • Once done, hit Relaunch Now to relaunch your Chrome browser.

There is no single fix for both the attacks since each requires protection independently.

Critical Flaws in Intel Processors Leave Millions of PCs Vulnerable


In past few months, several research groups have uncovered vulnerabilities in the Intel remote administration feature known as the Management Engine (ME) which could allow remote attackers to gain full control of a targeted computer.

Now, Intel has admitted that these security vulnerabilities could “potentially place impacted platforms at risk.”

The popular chipmaker released a security advisory on Monday admitting that its Management Engine (ME), remote server management tool Server Platform Services (SPS), and hardware authentication tool Trusted Execution Engine (TXE) are vulnerable to multiple severe security issues that place millions of devices at risk.

The most severe vulnerability (CVE-2017-5705) involves multiple buffer overflow issues in the operating system kernel for Intel ME Firmware that could allow attackers with local access to the vulnerable system to “load and execute code outside the visibility of the user and operating system.

The chipmaker has also described a high-severity security issue (CVE-2017-5708) involving multiple privilege escalation bugs in the operating system kernel for Intel ME Firmware that could allow an unauthorized process to access privileged content via an unspecified vector.

Systems using Intel Manageability Engine Firmware version 11.0.x.x, 11.5.x.x, 11.6.x.x, 11.7.x.x, 11.10.x.x and 11.20.x.x are impacted by these vulnerabilities.

For those unaware, Intel-based chipsets come with ME enabled for local and remote system management, allowing IT administrators to remotely manage and repair PCs, workstations, and servers within their organization.

As long as the system is connected to a line power and a network cable, these remote functions can be performed out of band even when the computer is turned off as it operates independently of the operating system.

Since ME has full access to almost all data on the computer, including its system memory and network adapters, exploitation of the ME flaws to execute malicious code on it could allow for a complete compromise of the platform.

“Based on the items identified through the comprehensive security review, an attacker could gain unauthorised access to the platform, Intel ME feature, and third party secrets protected by the ME, Server Platform Service (SPS), or Trusted Execution Engine (TXE),” Intel said.

Besides running unauthorized code on computers, Intel has also listed some attack scenarios where a successful attacker could crash systems or make them unstable.

Another high-severity vulnerability involves a buffer overflow issue (CVE-2017-5711) in Active Management Technology (AMT) for the Intel ME Firmware that could allow attackers with remote Admin access to the system to execute malicious code with AMT execution privilege.

AMT for Intel ME Firmware versions 8.x, 9.x, 10.x, 11.0.x.x, 11.5.x.x, 11.6.x.x, 11.7.x.x, 11.10.x.x and 11.20.x.x are impacted by this vulnerability.

The worst part is that it’s almost impossible to disable the ME feature to protect against possible exploitation of these vulnerabilities.

“The disappointing fact is that on modern computers, it is impossible to completely disable ME,” researchers from Positive Technologies noted in a detailed blog post published late August. “This is primarily due to the fact that this technology is responsible for initialization, power management, and launch of the main processor.”

Other high severity vulnerabilities impact TXE version 3.0 and SPS version 4.0, leaving millions of computers with the feature at risk. These are described as:

High Severity Flaws in Server Platform Service (SPS)

  • CVE-2017-5706: This involves multiple buffer overflow issues in the operating system kernel for Intel SPS Firmware that could allow attackers with local access to the system to execute malicious code on it.
  • CVE-2017-5709: This involves multiple privilege escalation bugs in the operating system kernel in Intel SPS Firmware that could allow an unauthorized process to access privileged content via an unspecified vector.

Both the vulnerabilities impact Intel Server Platform Services Firmware 4.0.x.x.

High Severity Flaws in Intel Trusted Execution Engine (TXE)

  • CVE-2017-5707: This issue involves multiple buffer overflow flaws in the operating system kernel in Intel TXE Firmware that allow attackers with local access to the system to execute arbitrary code on it.
  • CVE-2017-5710: This involves multiple privilege escalation bugs in the operating system kernel in Intel TXE Firmware that allow an unauthorized process to access privileged content via an unspecified vector.

Both the vulnerabilities impact Intel Trusted Execution Engine Firmware 3.0.x.x.

Affected Intel Products

Below is the list of the processor chipsets which include the vulnerable firmware:

  • 6th, 7th and 8th Generation Intel Core processors
  • Xeon E3-1200 v5 and v6 processors
  • Xeon Scalable processors
  • Xeon W processors
  • Atom C3000 processors
  • Apollo Lake Atom E3900 series
  • Apollo Lake Pentiums
  • Celeron N and J series processors

Intel has issued patches across a dozen generations of CPUs to address these security vulnerabilities that affect millions of PCs, servers, and the internet of things devices, and is urging affected customers to update their firmware as soon as possible.

The chipmaker has also published a Detection Tool to help Windows and Linux administrators check if their systems are exposed to any threat.

The company thanked Mark Ermolov and Maxim Goryachy from Positive Technologies Research for discovering CVE-2017-5705 and bringing it to its attention, which forced the chipmaker to review its source code for vulnerabilities.

In search of the perfect instruction

Knowing the language of common microprocessors is essential for the work of virus analysts across the AV industry.

Each program you run – clean, malicious, no matter – is actually a set of commands (called instructions) specific for particular processors. These instructions can be very simple, e.g. addition of two numbers, but we can see very complex cryptographic functions as well.

As the processor architecture evolves in time, it becomes more and more complicated and understanding or decoding the language is more difficult. It (hypothetically) does not have to be like this, but there’s a hell called backward compatibility.


Sooner or later, popular products such as (the majority of) desktop computers with the x86 processor need some innovative development to meet future requirements. Sometimes the amount of innovation is so vast, that it could easily form a completely new product. That’s the decision point – to be, or not to be – are you going to start a new product line and throw away the old platform, or will you stick with the old solution and keep the backward compatibility by hook or by crook?

Intel actually tried both ways.They admitted that there’s a need to make fundamental changes in the architecture and not limit themselves with the 20 year old shackle of 8086 processor.

So they started with the Itanium series – a completely different processor without the old limits. But the majority of common applications were written/compiled for traditional x86 architecture and Itanium has never made it to the “mainstream”.

To be honest, Itanium’s primary focus is a sphere of enterprise servers and high-end solutions, but it was a chance to make a big change with an impact also to traditional desktop systems. However, it would mean a successive conversion of current users to the new platform, motivating developers to write applications (browsers, media players, office suites…) for that platform, etc. This never happened and Itanium remains a enterprise solution. The x86 ecosystem was, and still is, so strong, that it was a necessity to paste all innovations to the old architecture. If you can’t start a greenfield project, you will always end up finding the lesser of two evils.

What are the drawbacks to Avast virus analysts?

The language of x86 processors is called x86 assembler. If we want to understand it, we must decode it with our x86 disassembler. This is a crucial part of static analysis, emulation, dynamic translation; weapons used by, I would guess, all antivirus engines to fight malware.

Having such a disassembler means having over 16,000 lines of C code and data, including padding and formatting in our case. It could be much shorter, if there were no logical exceptions from the decoding scheme, reusing prefixes for different purposes and giving them completely different meaning, etc. With such circumstances, writing a reliable, fast, and small disassembler is really difficult and with each “paste-to-old-architecture” innovation it gets closer to impossible. It’s going to be either big, slow, or not that reliable by design, because the x86/x64 architecture is so rich and in-homogeneous.

What should be done about x86

Here’s my point. It’s OK to add native support for AES and other cryptographic functions, it’s useful, but this is not the perfect instruction. I would really like to see the disasm instruction. Once the architecture is so complicated and the opcode map so messed up and there’s no way back, why not let Intel engineers deal with it?

We have a saying in Czech Republic, loosely translated: “Let them eat, what they cooked.” It would be so nice if a processor was able to provide us with its own native decoding capability. It would be so nice if we did not have to walk through the whole instruction set reference and find which part was twisted this time to fit new demands along with old shackles. After all, we could have smaller, faster, and the most reliable code (because who’s supposed to know x86/x64 processors better than their architects?).

So, Intel engineers, for the sake of all emulator programmers, will you pick up the gauntlet and implement the perfect instruction? :-)

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