Intel messes up – your computer at risk and the workaround will slow it down

Soon you could be asked – or rather, gently dictated – to update your macOS, Linux or Windows desktop computer or workstation. The update will not speed up your machine; it will actually slow it down. The reason: Intel has messed up its design of processors made over the past decade, resulting in an exploitable security breach.

While malware and hackers could use this bug to more easily exploit other security bugs, there’s also a chance it could be used by programs and logged-in users to read the contents of the kernel’s memory. The fix – or rather, the workaround – is a software update, and The Register – where I initially read this news – says the effects are still being benchmarked, but that you’d better brace yourself for a performance hit of between five and 30 percent, depending on the task and the processor model. The Register also says that more recent Intel chips have features – such as PCID – to reduce the performance hit.

If you thought our precious Macs would be spared, then allow me to shatter your dream: Apple’s 64-bit macOS will also require an update, but, as always, Apple is silent. The bug is present in all Intel x86-64 hardware and it appears only an OS software update can address it. You can, of course, always buy a new processor which does not have the bug.

Details of the vulnerability within Intel’s silicon are under wraps: an embargo on the specifics is due to lift early this month. That means we can’t yet tell for sure if our workstations will be affected much by the speed penalty the fix will inevitably cause. Softpedia claims it could be less dramatic than currently anticipated, but judging by the explanation of the bug by The Register, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Still, if Softpedia is right, it’s likely that regular users won’t be affected much, if at all. The platforms that would most likely take a hit are cloud services such as Amazon EC2 or Azure.

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