In early 2018, a news bulletin appealed to millions of computer users around the world. Security researchers had discovered vulnerabilities in PC processors that allowed attackers to read data directly from the microchip, including passwords and crypto-keys. Now, some of the researchers involved in the discovery of the "Specter" and "Meltdown" vulnerabilities discovered several similar vulnerabilities in Intel chips. They were baptized "Zombieload".
The vulnerabilities cause attackers to potentially read out memory areas in the processor (CPU) that should be protected under certain circumstances. Intel classifies the likelihood that the vulnerabilities are exploited in practice as low to medium - also because an attack is extremely complex compared to the exploitation of other vulnerabilities.
More likely than trying to exploit the gaps for attacks on a broad front, it is therefore that they are used for targeted attacks on individual computers, on which, for example, secret data is stored.
Updates are on the way
To close the "zombie load" gap, Intel released so-called microcode updates (MCU). But they can not install users directly. They flow into updates of the various hardware and software manufacturers with whom Intel works.
Intel Xeon processor: This model is not affected, but it is too old.
For most users, the update, which makes their processor safe again, will come via operating system updates, whose quick installation should be mandatory anyway.
Apple has already fixed the problem with the update to macOS 10.14.5 Mojave, which was released on Monday. Updates are also available for the older macOS versions High Sierra and Sierra. However, these can reduce the performance of Macs in the worst case by up to 40 percent, warns Apple.
Microsoft has released updates on Tuesday as part of the monthly so-called patch Tuesday. However, the Group points out that further updates of the respective device manufacturers are necessary for comprehensive protection.
In any case, users should always import all offered updates, including those for web browsers, always directly. Only then can you be sure to be reasonably well protected at least against known vulnerabilities. Also in view of the many Microsoft and Adobe stuffed security vulnerabilities, which are sometimes classified as critical, one should heed this advice.
Affected by Zombieload are many older Core i processors that were made from 2011 on. Virtually protected from the factory are only the latest Intel CPUs, such as chips from the Core i-8000U series for notebooks or from the Core i-9000 series for desktop computers.