Monday 20 August 2018

Millions of Irish PCs using Intel chips 'vulnerable to hacking'

(stock image)
(stock image)
(stock photo)
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

A serious problem in computer chips is threatening millions of Irish home PCs and work machines.

The fault enables attackers to steal information from a computer without the owner's knowledge. But experts say proposed fixes for the problem could zap battery life and slow a computer down by up to 30pc.

"It's a disaster," said Conor Flynn, a senior IT security expert and founder of Information Security Assurance Services.

"This could allow malicious code such as ransomware run at the most privileged level of your computer, top-level access. This isn't a Mac or Windows issue, it's the fundamental core of computing."

Microsoft and Apple are believed to be working on patches to guard against the danger. However, the problem is believed to originate at the level of a computer's processor. A statement from Intel, whose chips are present in most computers, said the problem "has the potential to improperly gather sensitive data from computing devices that are operating as designed". However, the company denied it was a flaw that was unique to Intel chips, as had been previously reported.

The issue came to light when testers disclosed the computing flaw to the IT news website, 'The Register'.

The problem relates to the 'kernel', or core, of computer chips. A design flaw makes it possible for attackers to take over a computer running the chip without the owner knowing, bypassing precautions such as anti-virus software. The issue is said to affect the majority of processors made in the last decade, which means it is a global problem potentially affecting hundreds of millions of computers.

"This is going to the very root of a computer's architecture," Mr Flynn said. "We're talking about a huge impact."

"It could have real cost implications for businesses that have been using, or intend to use, cloud technology and Intel servers," said Matthew Hickey, a UK-based IT security expert.

Despite its statement, Intel shares were worst hit, with the company's stock price slumping overnight. Flaws in the design of microprocessors, which go through rigorous testing and verification, are usually easily fixed by patches in the code that they use to communicate with the rest of the computer.

"Intel has begun providing software and firmware updates to mitigate these exploits," said the company statement.

Irish Independent

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