Intel chips vulnerable to hack says security researcher

Hackers could target flaws in processors according to a leading security researcher and author.


Hackers could target flaws in processors according to a leading security researcher and author.

Kris Kaspersky plans to demonstrate how an attacker could target flaws in Intel's chips to remotely attack a computer using JavaScript or TCP/IP packets, regardless of what operating system the computer is running. "I'm going to show real working code...and make it publicly available," Kaspersky said, adding that CPU bugs are a growing threat and malware is being written that targets these vulnerabilities.

Kaspersky (no relation to Eugene Kaspersky of Labs fame) will demonstrate how such an attack can be made in a presentation at the Hack In The Box (HITB) Security Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in October. The proof-of-concept attacks will show how processor bugs, called errata, can be exploited using certain instruction sequences and a knowledge of how Java compilers work, allowing an attacker to take control of the compiler.

Different bugs will allow hackers to do different things on the attacked computers. "Some bugs just crash the system, some allow a hacker to gain full control on the kernel level. Some just help to attack Vista, disabling security protections," he said.

The demonstrated attack will be made against fully patched computers running a range of operating systems, including Windows XP, Vista, Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008, Linux and BSD, Kaspersky said, adding that the demonstration of an attack against a Mac is also a possibility.

Processors contain hundreds of millions of transistors and errata in these chips are relatively common. While some errata can affect a chip's ability to function properly - such as the errata that last year forced Advanced Micro Devices to push back volume shipments of its quad-core Opteron processors - many others exist unnoticed by users.

For example, the Silverthorne version of Intel's Atom processor, which lies at the heart of the Centrino Atom chip platform, contains 35 errata, according to a June specification update released by Intel.

"It's possible to fix most of the bugs, and Intel provides workarounds to the major BIOS vendors," Kaspersky said, referring to the code that controls the most basic functions of a PC. "However, not every vendor uses it and some bugs have no workarounds."

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