Intel has admitted that PCs and servers are experiencing unexpected reboots after applying a patch designed to address the Spectre and Meltdown processor flaws. Spectre and Meltdown are design flaws in modern CPUs that could allow hackers to bypass system protections on a wide range of devices, allowing attackers to read sensitive information, such as passwords, from memory. Intel began making software and firmware updates available to mitigate attacks exploiting these flaws last week, pushing them out via system manufacturers. However, yesterday the chip maker admitted these updates were causing certain computers to unexpectedly reboot. The random reboots appear to be affecting both PCs and servers that use Intel Broadwell and Haswell processors. "We are working quickly with these customers to understand, diagnose and address this reboot issue. If this requires a revised firmware update from Intel, we will distribute that update through the normal channels," wrote Navin Shenoy, executive vice president and general manager of the Data Center Group at Intel. Despite the issues, Shenoy says that computer users and admins should "continue to apply updates recommended by their system and operating system providers". While tech firms have been preparing updates to mitigate the Spectre and Meltdown flaws for months, details of the vulnerabilities leaked out early. In the rush to issue patches there have been other instances of Spectre and Meltdown updates causing problems of their own. Microsoft recently said that Windows PCs won't receive any further security updates until third-party AV software is verified as compatible with Windows patches for Spectre and Meltdown. And chipmaker AMD has been working with Microsoft to resolve problems after the patches caused PCs running on some older AMD Opteron, Athlon and AMD Turion X2 Ultra processors to refuse to boot. AMD said yesterday the issue should be resolved shortly. AMD also announced that, starting this week, it will address the branch target injection exploit for Spectre by making microcode updates available for its Ryzen and Epyc processors. Updates for older processors will follow in the "coming weeks", with all updates being made available via OS vendors and system manufacturers. The Meltdown flaw doesn't affect AMD processors. As well as triggering undesirable behaviour the Spectre patches are degrading machine performance, particularly for older processors. Microsoft said earlier this week that people running computers on 2015-era Intel Haswell or earlier processors would see the biggest performance slowdown, particularly if they weren't using Windows 10. Those running Windows 10 systems on newer CPUs would see minimal impact, it said. Microsoft cautioned the performance of Windows Server systems could suffer a more significant impact, "especially in any IO-intensive application". Intel has also published data, gathered both from users and its own synthetic benchmarks, which identified a real-world performance hit of between about six and eight percent across all systems. Like Microsoft, it found that computers running on 8th-generation processors suffered a smaller impact than those running 7th- or 6th-generation CPUs. Apple claims that performance of Macs, iPhones and iPads is largely unaffected by the patches, stating "our testing with public benchmarks has shown that the changes in the December 2017 updates resulted in no measurable reduction in the performance of macOS and iOS as measured by the GeekBench 4 benchmark, or in common Web browsing benchmarks". Major cloud providers, AWS, Google and Microsoft say that, for the majority of workloads, customers should not notice a difference in performance following the updates. However, there have been reports from some customers of a drop off. AWS customer Epic Games attributed a more than 20 percent spike in CPU load on a cloud server hosting games of Fortnite to the impact of the Spectre and Meltdown patches. Also see
It hasnt been a fun time to be Intel. Last week the company revealed two chip vulnerabilities that have come to be known as Spectre and Meltdown and have been rocking the entire chip industry ever since (not just Intel). This week the company issued some patches to rectify the problem. Today, word leaked that some companies were having a reboot issue after installing them. A bad week just got worse. The company admitted as much in a blog post penned by Navin Shenoy, executive vice president and general manager of the Data Center Group at Intel. We have received reports from a few customers of higher system reboots after applying firmware updates. Specifically, these systems are running Intel Broadwell and Haswell CPUs for both client and data center, Shenoy wrote. He added, If this requires a revised firmware update from Intel, we will distribute that update through the normal channels. Just when you couldnt think this situation could spiral any more out of Intels control, it did. The Wall Street Journal is reporting it got its hands on a confidential memo issued by the company and shared with large companies and cloud providers not to install the patches. Its important to note that Intel is advising consumers to install all patches, and they point out this isnt a security issue. Its just a bad software issue and while they should have made certain this was rock solid, a situation like this tends to lead to pressure that leads to mistakes — and thats probably what happened here. The Spectre and Meltdown issues were discovered last year by Googles Project Zero security team. They found that because of a flaw in modern chip architecture, designed for speed over security, the chip kernel could be exposed. This is where private information like passwords and encryption keys are stored and supposed to be protected. Instead, because of this flaw they could be unprotected. Meltdown affects just Intel chips, while Spectre affects just about all modern chips, including AMD, ARM, IBM Power chips and Nvidia. Raspberry Pi appears to be the only computer spared from this. So far there hasnt been a documented case of anyone taking advantage of this exploit, which, Google pointed out in a blog post yesterday, has existed in chips for 20 years, but security experts have suggested it would be hard to attribute an issue to this particular exploit, even if they had known about it.