Intel’s processor flaw is a virtualization nightmare

2018 is off to a very bad start for Intel after the disclosure of a flaw deep in the design of its processors. And while the company has publicly said the issue won’t affect consumers, they aren’t the ones who need to be worried.

The issue is found in how Intel processors work with page tables for handling virtual memory. It is believed that an exploit would be able to observe the content of privileged memory by exploiting a technique called speculative execution.

Speculative execution exploit

Speculative execution is a part of a methodology called out-of-order execution (OOE), where basically the CPU makes an educated guess on what will happen next based on the data it has. It’s designed to speed up the CPU rather than burn up CPU cycles working its way through a process. It’s all meant to make the CPU as efficient as possible.

Intel has been mum on how long the problem has been around, but it’s believed to date back to its move to 64-bit processors and the Penryn/Merom family of processors in 2006. Intel was first informed of the problem back in June 2017 by Google researchers, and Google kept quiet about it while Intel and the OS vendors addressed the problem. Google has since published its findings.

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