Intel’s massive chip flaw could hit Mac where it hurts


Intel chips have a nasty secret.
Intel chips have a nasty secret.
Photo: Intel

A major security flaw discovered in Intel chips requires a software fix that could negatively impact the performance of your Mac. The “design blunder” affects all Intel chips produced in the last 10 years, according to one report.

Intel builds the finest processors for both consumer and professional machines. They’re the company of choice for most creatives, gamers, and major enterprises. But it seems that for years, Intel chips have been harboring a nasty secret.

Intel’s serious security flaw

A serious security flaw in all Intel chips produced over the last 10 years allows desktop programs to read parts of the protected kernel memory, according to a report from The Register. This can include data like passwords, login keys, and other sensitive information.

This is incredibly worrying for all users who choose Intel. It affects those running Windows, Linux, and macOS. Specific details aren’t yet known — they’re under embargo until the end of the month — but The Register has obtained some information.

“At worst, the hole could be abused by programs and logged-in users to read the contents of the kernel’s memory,” warns the report. “Suffice to say, this is not great.”

“The kernel’s memory space is hidden from user processes and programs because it may contain all sorts of secrets, such as passwords, login keys, files cached from disk, and so on. Imagine a piece of JavaScript running in a browser, or malicious software running on a shared public cloud server, able to sniff sensitive kernel-protected data.”

The fix will impact performance

The only fix for this problem is to isolate the kernel memory from user processes. This requires a practice called Kernel Page Table Isolation, which could cause a performance hit. Windows and Linux machines could suffer a 5- to 30-percent slowdown.

It is not yet clear what the impact might be under macOS.

Software updates for Windows and Linux are already in development, and although the report doesn’t mention Apple, it’s likely Cupertino is working on a fix, too. Once those roll out, we’ll have a greater understanding of the impact they will have.

  • TrueNorth_Steve✓ᴰᴱᴾᴸᴼᴿᴬᴮᴸᴱ

    It should be a like VW TDI – they lied about the numbers – time for a buy back – i don’t want a computer that I bought based on the numbers and possibility being slowed down..

    • Daniel Hertlein

      Who pays? Apple, who purchased the best processors in good faith from the most trusted chip maker on the planet, along with every other computer manufacturer? Intel, who made the chips but can’t possibly afford the kind of buyback you’re talking about?
      I’m not happy. I just bought a new MacBook less than six months ago and opted for the Pro version for speed and longetivity, but this isn’t anything like the VW TDI. No one lied. No one gained anything or was trying to. There was a flaw.

      • Mike Menkes

        Intel pays, enters into receivership, then is bought out by something bigger than Intel. Could be an interesting bidding war between Apple and Google.

      • Guy

        I’ve been a Mac user since 1987, but I wouldn’t want either Google OR Apple to buy Intel.Determine who at Intel (if anyone) knew about this ahead of time, punish those involved, allow the company to remain independent and move on. I’d rather Apple buy AMD if they were looking at making and designing their own X86-based processors.

      • Daniel Hertlein

        A bidding war followed by an antitrust lawsuit if it’s even allowed to go through, but good answer.

      • TrueNorth_Steve✓ᴰᴱᴾᴸᴼᴿᴬᴮᴸᴱ

        both – in then end both were responsible for fully testing the products – bosch made and knew about the cheat and said nothing but VW took the heat.. either way – both should pay..

    • Daniel Hertlein

      Also sounds like both Apple and Microsoft already addressed it without anyone being the wiser.

  • AAPL.To.Break.$170.Soon.>:-)

    So, for some reason (based on the headline), this processor problem could hit Apple hard despite there are many other companies selling a much higher number of computers of all types than Apple is selling. I don’t understand why Apple should be hit any harder than any other company that uses Intel processors. I would think Apple could weather it the best since they’re sitting on the largest amount of cash. Unfortunately, most Apple computers have their processors neatly soldered in place.

    Apparently, Intel won’t have to take any responsibility for this matter? I think Intel should have to take full responsibility for selling faulty processors and this is what the article’s headline should fully express. That headline is blatant Apple click-bait. Hundreds of millions of flawed Intel chips and no real mention of Intel losing money from this flaw. No doom and gloom for Intel.

    Anyway, I’m not concerned. I think Intel is a fine company and their chips are top-notch. I doubt the fix will slow down Intel chips enough to notice, in most cases.

    • guy

      because the author is a android fan boy.
      Mac released the fixes even before anyone knew.

      THAT is why you buy Mac.

  • trisul

    “it’s likely Cupertino is working on a fix, too. Once those roll out, we’ll have a greater understanding of the impact they will have.”

    Actually, they were already out when the article was written.