Microsoft rolls out patch for new speculative-execution flaw in Intel CPUs

Posted on Wednesday, Aug 07 2019 @ 10:54 CEST by Thomas De Maesschalck
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Microsoft silently rolled out a patch to Windows systems that plugs a serious speculative-execution flaw in all Intel CPUs that have been on the market since 2012. The bug was discovered 12 months ago by security firm Bitdefender, and was privately reported to Intel. The exploit discovered by Bitdefender abuses the SWAPGS CPU instruction to leak kernel memory into the user space, even if the CPU has mitigation against previous side channel attacks.
Bitdefender's researchers found that a chip instruction known as SWAPGS made it possible to revive the side channel, even on systems that had the earlier mitigations installed. SWAPGS gets called when a computing event switches from a less-trusted userland function to a more sensitive kernel one. Proof-of-concept exploits developed by Bitdefender invoked the instruction to siphon contents normally restricted to kernel memory into user memory.

"What we have found is a way to exploit the SWAPGS instruction which switches from userland to kernel mode in such a way that we could... carry out a side-channel attack," Bogdan Botezatu, Bitdefender's director of threat research and reporting, told Ars. "By doing that, we are going to leak kernel memory into the user space even if there are security measures that should prevent us from doing that."
Bitdefender says Windows is vulnerable but noted that an attack was "unfeasible" on systems running Linux, Unix, or FreeBSD, or macOS. It's also not possible to execute the attack via JavaScript, so a drive-by attack via a website is unfeasible too. It's unknown if this fix comes with another performance hit. Full details at ARS Technica.

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Thomas De Maesschalck

Thomas has been messing with computer since early childhood and firmly believes the Internet is the best thing since sliced bread. Enjoys playing with new tech, is fascinated by science, and passionate about financial markets. When not behind a computer, he can be found with running shoes on or lifting heavy weights in the weight room.

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