Amazon, Apple, Google & Microsoft issue patches to fix ZombieLoad bug

Computers containing Intel chips from 2011 onwards are vulnerable to ZombieLoad bug.

Intel processor chips have lately been accused of being flawed and unreliable in ensuring optimal computer performance and the current news further reinforces the fact that Intel needs to up its game and make its processor chips secure for users.

According to security researchers at the Graz University of Technology in Austria and KU Leuven University in Belgium, there are some new problems identified in Intel processor chips that could potentially slow down the processing of the computer.

See: New Intel chip flaw “Foreshadow” attacks SGX technology to extract sensitive data

Intel has accepted that the flaw is real and present in its processor chips but the company claims that the impact on computers will be minimal while the required fixes are most likely to affect its data centers. The newly identified bug is dubbed ZombieLoad.

Researchers claim that Intel chips contain an entirely new class of vulnerabilities that can be exploited to obtain confidential and sensitive user data from the processor. The vulnerabilities identified in Intel chips are similar to the infamous Meltdown and Spectre bugs that could be used to exploit the flaws in the speculative execution process of modern processors.

It is worth noting that Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities also leaked sensitive data such as passwords, account tokens, secret keys, and private messages stored for a brief time in the processor.

ZombieLoad is basically a side-channel attack mainly targeting Intel processor chips. The bug lets attackers to successfully exploit design flows without needing to inject malicious code. According to Intel’s analysis, ZombieLoad comprises of four bugs. Moreover, all computers containing Intel chips from 2011 onwards will be vulnerable to ZombieLoad while ARM and AMD chips aren’t at risk.

Researchers have released a PoC (proof-of-concept) video in which they have demonstrated how ZombieLoad can exploit processor chips to keep track of the websites the user is visiting in real-time and obtain sensitive data like access tokens or passwords to hijack the victim’s online accounts.

“[This could affect] user-level secrets, such as browser history, website content, user keys, and passwords, or system-level secrets, such as disk encryption keys,” researchers revealed in the site dedicated to ZombieLoad attack.

Moreover, they aren’t sure if an attack launched using ZombieLoad will be traceable or not and whether it has been exploited so far. The bug is named after the zombie load feature in the processor. Basically, when the processor cannot properly understand or process some data, it is forced to seek help from the microcode of the processor to prevent a crash.

Though applications can see only the data that belongs to them, through this bug the data can be leaked across different apps. What ZombieLoad does is that it leaks the data that’s been loaded by the processor’s core.

To eliminate the issue, Intel will need to release microcode patches to clear processor’s buffers so that the data leakage could be prevented. Intel believes that pulling off such an attack is going to be a very “complex” task. However, the company has urged users to download security updates released by Apple, Microsoft, and Linux-based OS providers to counter the issue for the time being.

See: WhatsApp flaw lets hackers install spyware on iOS & Android devices

More details on the patch issued by Microsoft are available here.

More details on the patch issued by Apple are available here.

More details on the patch issued by Amazon are available here.

More details on the patch issued by Google are available here.

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