Intel and other tech firms scrambled to upgrade computer code in millions of computers and phones after researchers disclosed a design flaw in chips made by Intel and others that could allow an attacker to view hidden information such as passwords.
The flaw, which Intel dubbed a side-channel analysis attack, was discovered "months ago" Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said on CNBC Wednesday. Researchers including Google's Project Zero security group found the design weakness and reported it to the affected companies.
The flaw affects central processing units, or CPUs, the chips that handle the instructions a computer receives from hardware and software. They are sometimes called the "brain" of the computer.
There have been no examples of the flaw being exploited by hackers that Intel or other researchers are aware of, Steve Smith with Intel’s Data Center Engineering Group, said on the call.
But the potential for a broad attack was far larger than most security weaknesses hardware makers spot. It could potentially affect almost all computers built in the past two decades. Exactly how difficult such attacks might be to pull off, and how much information could be gained, was not clear.
Intel said it was working with hardware and software companies to push out fixes to the problem. The company said new chips it is working on will be constructed so that the exploit cannot be used on them, while firmware and software for older CPUs will be updated.
A group of computer industry firms had been working on the issue for several months and had planned to disclose the flaw on January 9. However a news report by the computer security news site The Register on Tuesday forced companies to speed up their response.
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