Intel’s Chip Problem Matters — And Not Just For Intel

17th January, 2018 by

As a new era of cyberwarfare emerges, cybersecurity is developing in tandem. Institutions and companies desperate to keep pace with a rapidly advancing world are doing so with one eye constantly over its shoulder. As a result, a new age of collaboration has begun to take shape—one that not even the most astute prophets of the era could have foreseen. Tech firms are currently working together in an effort to fix bugs in their systems that could allow hackers to steal personal important and private data from a series of computer systems.

Intel Vulnerability

To some degree, the collaboration was an effort to avoid a PR disaster, after Google researchers found “serious security flaws” embedded in chips made by Intel, AMD and ARM. The research found that anyone who used these chips made their devices susceptible to easy hacks, entangling their security with the fault security of the chips. Although the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said there was yet to be any evidence that the built-in vulnerability had been exploited by outside hackers, the news was nevertheless enough to bring Intel shares down by 6%. The stock plummeted further by the time the market closed, nearly 3.4% lower than when the news first broke.

The potential for public exposure is just one of the reasons researchers typically keep their findings close to the chest, generally choosing only share the information with the parties in question. Often, aside from the public relations fiasco that would inevitably follow, both sides tend to agree to sit on the information hoping to limit the number of people who would take advantage of the situation. However, news of the Intel chip leaked to the public before officials from either side were able to control the situation.

Rebuilding Confidence

Intel has stated its plans to share information regarding the chip problems next week. The company has consulted several security researchers, all of whom have made a secrecy pact with the company, turning the potential tech nightmare into something resembling a friendship circle. In essence, the competitive element of the industry has been largely put to one side in the face of such potential industry disaster. Microchips are simple electronic systems that make up the complex interiors of a computer or mobile phone. Initially, the issue had been linked strictly to a series of Intel chips, but the firm that studied the problem has found the issue to be affecting “many types of computer devices — with many different vendors’ processors and operating systems — are susceptible to these exploits.”

The issue isn’t associated with Intel alone. Companies like Microsoft and Apple both use Intel microchips for their industry-standard mobile phones and computers. As a result, a security problem for Intel becomes a security problem for everyone, including the companies that outsource their parts to others. The NCSC said that it was aware of reports that potential flaws in the chips made them susceptible to hacking, though neither the company nor the NCSC would confirm exactly what the security issue with the chips in question was.

Updates to the Rescue

Regardless of details, Microsoft and Apple are both expected to release security updates. Google, whose research team initially found the problem with the chips, published a blog entry detailing what customers should do as a precaution. Whether the issue will be widely exploited is still unclear, but the news was certainly a wake-up call for a company that develops and releases nearly 80% of the microprocessors on the market, ones that make up a majority of the computers that everyday people and full-blown professionals use. Microprocessors are the brain of the computer; as they improve, the endless potential of computing improves with it. With every error comes a chance to enhance our security, and the practice of companies coming together to put competition second and safety first goes a long way in taking the next big step forward.

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