A report that Intel Corp. chips are vulnerable to hackers raised concerns about the company’s main products and brand.
On Tuesday, the technology website The Register said a bug lets some software gain access to parts of a computer’s memory that are set aside to protect things like passwords. All computers with Intel chips from the past 10 years appear to be affected, the report said, and patches to Microsoft Corp.’s Windows and Apple Inc.’s OS X operating systems will be required. The security updates may slow down older machinery by as much as 30 percent, according to The Register.
The vulnerability may have consequences beyond just computers, and may not be the result of a design or testing error. All modern microprocessors, including those that run smartphones, are built to essentially guess what functions they’re likely to be asked to run next. By queuing up possible executions in advance, they’re able to crunch data and run software much faster.
The problem in this case is that this predictive loading of instructions allows access to data that’s normally cordoned off securely. That means, in theory, that malicious code could find a way to access information that would otherwise be out of reach, such as passwords.