A few days ago, Intel and ARM chips were found to be affected by a new Specter vulnerability. Dubbed Specter V2, AMD processors were thought to avoid the problem, but new research shows AMD’s mitigation efforts are inadequate.
The team of researchers from VU University Amsterdam (via Tom’s Hardware) in the Netherlands demonstrated a new Specter attack that circumvents the hardware limitations introduced by Intel and ARM in recent years. AMD was believed to be immune, or at least not significantly affected, but Intel has since revealed that AMD’s chipset may have vulnerabilities. Since then, AMD has issued a security notice confirming the vulnerability.
Specter is a security vulnerability affecting modern microprocessors that perform speculative branch predictions. A side effect of this is the ability to reveal data to attackers. While Specter itself dates back to 2017, similar vulnerabilities have been around for many years.
In early 2018, security measures were taken, including OS updates, BIOS microcode restrictions, and eventually hardware fixes. However, it seems that these measures were not enough to prevent further exploits.
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“The mitigations [implemented by Intel and Arm] work as intended, but the remaining attack surface is much larger than initially believed by suppliers,” the researchers explained.
While end users are unlikely to fall victim to a Specter attack, it is still recommended to install the various security updates as they become available, even if they could lead to performance losses. Fortunately, many apps can be coded with little or no performance loss, but code running through a web browser should be executed with mitigation measures.
So while news of new vulnerabilities isn’t welcome, it’s important not to panic. It is believed that these risks are rarely, if ever, exploited. Malicious people use simpler methods to get what they want, so as long as you keep your system up to date, there’s little or nothing to worry about.