Race is on to fix security flaw in computer processors

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Almost a week after a huge security flaw was discovered in chips that run most computer processors — the race is on to fix them.

But, some of the fixes seem to be running into trouble and now tech folks are trying to figure out how to fix the fix.

When the flaw was discovered, researchers were aghast because it meant that almost every computer, tablet, smartphone and even cloud server had been vulnerable to hackers for more than 20 years.

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The flaw remained hidden as chip makers searched for ways to make devices process more and more information quickly.

“Performance has always been the goal. Security was kind of an afterthought,” said James Lewis of The Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Security experts say that search for speed has resulted in two flaws with the ominous names “Meltdown” and “Spectre.” Google’s Project Zero team discovered the problem in the processing chips that are at the heart of almost every computer manufactured since 1995.

“There’s billions of these chips out in the world and they power everything from the biggest computers to maybe your cell phone,” explained Lewis.

The flaw was discovered in the so-called kernel memory. It’s an area that was meant to be inaccessible to users.

“This is actually a design flaw, an architecture flaw on how these chips were designed, said Symantec’s Earl Chien. “That’s why many of these chips across many different vendors are affected. And that’s why we see it so widespread.”

The fear is sophisticated hackers could steal passwords which would unlock private information on everything from personal computers and smartphones to the cloud servers that are used by almost every company that operates on the internet.

“Everyone in the world is racing either to fix it or to find out a way to take advantage of it,” said Lewis. “So, it is definitely a race between attacker and defender and in those races it’s usually the attacker that has the advantage.

Apple has rushed out an update to its iOS system that covers iPhone 5s and later, the iPad Air and later, and iPod touch 6th generation.

But Microsoft is having issues.

It’s halted distribution of its security patches because its support forums are receiving reports that computers won’t boot up after installing the update. Its support site says Microsoft is working to fix THAT problem.

Chip makers and tech companies knew about the problem for months and had been trying to keeping it quiet until a fix was developed before hackers knew about it–but word about it leaked out.

At this point, there’s no indication hackers have found a way to exploit the flaws. But, we’ll have to wait and see.

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