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Intel disclosed Spectre-like L1TF vulnerabilities

News roundup: Intel disclosed L1TF vulnerabilities with similarities to Spectre, but with a focus on data. Plus, the NIST Small Business Cybersecurity Act is now a law, and more.

A new set of Spectre-like flaws that can, theoretically, be exploited to steal sensitive information was discovered in Intel products.

Two separate teams of researchers discovered the new vulnerabilities within a few weeks of each other in January and reported it to Intel. Intel was then able to identify two closely related variants and disclosed them publically this week, calling them L1 Terminal Fault (L1TF) vulnerabilities.

The three varieties of the L1TF vulnerabilities include CVE-2018-3615, which affects Intel's Software Guard Extensions (SGX); CVE-2018-3620, which affects operating systems and System Management Mode memory; and CVE-2018-3646, which affects hypervisors and virtual machines.

The flaw affecting Intel SGX -- the Foreshadow vulnerability -- has caused more of an uproar than the others. Since the discovery of the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities in January, Intel SGX had mostly remained untouched. While Meltdown and Spectre targeted program instructions, Foreshadow targets program data.

As a speculative execution side-channel vulnerability, Foreshadow can enable an attacker to "steal sensitive information stored inside personal computers and third-party clouds," according to the researchers who discovered the flaws.

In a blog post about the L1TF vulnerabilities, Google explained that in order to exploit Foreshadow, an attacker would need "control of hardware resources that are accessible only with operating system level control of the underlying physical or virtual processors." The vendor noted that unpatched operating systems could also allow for exploitation.

"Defending against this method of attack is particularly challenging for virtualized environments, as a virtual machine exposes the state necessary to construct an attack," Google explained. "Specifically, an attacker could intentionally configure their own page tables to direct these faults and probe the cache of the core on which they are currently executing."

Foreshadow vulnerabilityForeshadow vulnerability

Intel has already released mitigations for the L1TF vulnerabilities and said the new patches work best in conjunction with the microcode updates the company released earlier this year in response to the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities.

"When coupled with corresponding updates to operating system and hypervisor software released starting today by our industry partners and the open source community, these updates help ensure that consumers, IT professionals and cloud service providers have access to the protections they need," Intel's executive vice president and general manager of product assurance and security, Leslie Culbertson, said. "Once systems are updated, we expect the risk to consumer and enterprise users running non-virtualized operating systems will be low."

In other news:

  • President Donald Trump has reversed an Obama-era memorandum on how and when the U.S. government can use cyberattacks against adversaries, according to The Wall Street Journal. Trump signed an order to undo Presidential Policy Directive 20, which outlined a complex interagency process that had to be followed before the government could target a cyberattack at foreign adversaries. Presidential Policy Directive 20 was signed by then-President Barack Obama in 2012. Trump has yet to issue a replacement for the memorandum, though The Wall Street Journal reported "a number of current U.S. officials confirmed the directive had been replaced, but declined to comment further," because it's classified.
  • August's Patch Tuesday brought five Flash patches from Adobe and 17 updates to fix at least 60 vulnerabilities -- including two actively exploited zero-day vulnerabilities -- from Microsoft. The first zero-day flaw Microsoft patched was a critical vulnerability in Internet Explorer that would target users with malware. The other zero-day was a vulnerability in the Windows 10 shell that would enable an attacker to run code remotely. Microsoft also patched the Foreshadow vulnerability. Another 23 patches were for critical flaws in Internet Explorer, Edge and Chakra Scripting. Adobe patched Flash vulnerabilities with a new version of it for macOS, Chrome and Linux.
  • The NIST Small Business Cybersecurity Act -- formerly called the MAIN STREET Cybersecurity Act -- became a law this week. The law requires the National Institute of Standards and Technology to provide informational resources to small businesses to help them with cybersecurity. The law is the result of a bipartisan effort from U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and James Risch (R-Idaho), and co-sponsored by Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). The resources NIST provides to small businesses must be applicable to a wide variety of small businesses, vary based on the size of the company and the sensitivity of the data it deals with, include basic ways to promote a cybersecurity-aware environment, include case studies, are technology- and vendor-neutral and be based on international standards as much as possible.

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