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Researcher set to demo attack on Intel chips

Analyst: 'Serious' Kaspersky claim will entice hackers to find, exploit bugs in processors

July 14, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The author of several security books is slated to demonstrate how he could take advantage of flaws in Intel Corp.'s chips to launch a remote attack against a computer -- regardless of what software platform it's running.

Kris Kaspersky, an IT consultant and the author of Hacker Disassembling Uncovered and Data Recovery: Tips and Solutions, is booked to make the demo at the Hack In The Box Security Conference, slated to be held in October in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In a summary of his presentation, Kaspersky wrote that he will show off proof-of-concept code and demonstrate how to use JavaScript code or TCP/IP packet storms against Intel-based machines.

He also charged that such CPU bugs actually have damaged hard drives without users' knowledge.

"Although CPU bugs are not something new in the security industry, nobody has come out with any proof-of-concept exploits," wrote Kaspersky. "It is just a matter of time before we start seeing these sort of attacks used in more devastating ways over the Internet. Intel has provided work-arounds to major BIOS vendors for some of these bugs, but who knows which vendor actually uses them? End- users are in the dark as to how to check if they are secure or not. Intel doesn't provide any test program for this, and the worst thing is [that] some bugs are still not fixed. In other words, Intel has no work-around for it."

George Alfs, a spokesman for Intel, said he has not yet seen Kaspersky's research, nor has he spoken to him about it.

"We have evaluation teams always looking at issues. We'll certainly take a look at this one," said Alfs. "All chips have errata, and there could be an issue that needs to be checked. Possibly. We'd have to investigate his paper."

Alfs said the first step for Intel will be to get a copy of Kaspersky's paper and then discuss his research with him. Then Intel would conduct its own tests. He would not say whether Kaspersky contacted Intel before going public with his findings.

In his presentation summary, Kaspersky, who does not work for Kaspersky Lab, noted that some of the flaws that he will show off are exploitable via common instruction sequences and by knowing the mechanics behind certain JIT Java compilers.

"If his allegations are true, then computers from personal computers to servers, are at risk," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc. "These allegations are serious and, if true, certainly a cause for concern. Just the fact that this is being widely publicized will act as an enticement for hackers to exploit the alleged weaknesses in the processors. That said, I believe that the author may be entering into the land of hyperbole when he says that these bugs can be exploited regardless of operating system or other security measures. That certainly needs to be proven."

Read more about Hardware in Computerworld's Hardware Topic Center.



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