MELTDOWN AND SPECTRE could return as security experts from Princeton University and Nvidia have created fresh exploits in the form of ‘MeltdownPrime’ and ‘SpectrePrime’.
Sounding like something out of Transformers, the dup of exploits were created as proof-of-concept attacks by the researchers to discover how the processor flaws can be exploited to extract sensitive information through the use of side-channel attacks.
MeltdownPrime has yet to be used successfully against any real-world hardware, but SpectrePrime has been used to get at data on an Intel Core i7 CPU equipped MacBook.
The researchers created a tool to synthesise “microarchitecture-specific programs capable of producing any user-specified hardware execution pattern of interest”.
The boffins then used this tool to synthesise and test new variants of Meltdown and Spectre, which exploited cache invalidation protocols and tapped into Prime+Probe and Flush+Reload timing attack techniques to sneak a glimpse at how a target machine or applications is using cache memory.
“In the context of Spectre and Meltdown, leveraging coherence invalidations enables a Prime+Probe attack to achieve the same level of precision as a Flush+Reload attack and leak the same type of information,” the paper, snappily titled MeltdownPrime and SpectrePrime: Automatically-Synthesized Attacks Exploiting Invalidation-Based Coherence Protocols explained.
“By exploiting cache invalidations, MeltdownPrime and SpectrePrime – two variants of Meltdown and Spectre, respectively – can leak victim memory at the same granularity as Meltdown and Spectre while using a Prime+Probe timing side-channel.”
However, before you panic and hurl your PC into the nearest incinerator, these flaws are likely to be plugged with the latest patches for Meltdown and Spectre. And the researchers have kept their code under wraps.
So we’re not likely to see these new flaws being exploited out in the wild unless someone at Nvidia or Princeton decides to leak it online.
But the proof-of-concept exploits reveal how ingrained the Meltdown and Spectre flaws are in the silicon of many CPUs, meaning fixing them and all their potential variants may be an extremely challenging task.
So far, there have been no reports of hackers exploiting Meltdown or Spectre in the wild, which would indicate the tech firms affected are ahead of the curve. Yet that doesn’t rule out the potential for similar flaws to crop up and get exploited, hence Intel’s boosted bug bounty. µ
Source : Inquirer