Not since the inventions of the silicon transistor and integrated circuit (IC) have chipmakers found themselves in a quandary like the one they’re currently experiencing.
That’s the essence of Michael Cobb’s article in TechTarget.com/SearchSecurity. His lead paragraph says it all: “Functionality versus security, ease of use versus security and performance versus security: These are the challenges that every vendor faces when it comes to getting a software or hardware product to market and supporting its user base.”
The industry has had an earful of Spectre, Meltdown, and Foreshadow vulnerabilities. But now, Cobb in this article re-introduces us to the Spectre Variant 2, AKA CVE-2017-5715. So, get ready for a long explanation.
It is defined as a microprocessor vulnerability that allows an attacker to cause otherwise correctly executing code to expose information to the attacker that wouldn’t normally be exposed due to a wrong branch target being temporarily chosen, resulting in Spectre Variant 1 being executed, thus changing the cache states of the microarchitecture, thereby leaking information through side-channel timing analysis. For this attack to work, only speculatively execution is needed; the processor can still be in order.”
Cobb tells us again that these vulnerabilities arise from micro-architectural design techniques used to increase the speed of modern microprocessors.He adds that these techniques can also be abused to enable attackers to bypass system protections on nearly every modern PC, server and smartphone. And in the case of Spectre, the attack can enable malicious programs to induce a hypervisor to transmit data to a guest system running on top of it.
He explains that producing a viable patch, particularly against the Spectre variant 2 vulnerability, is proving to be difficult, as branch prediction and speculative execution, which accelerate the rate at which a CPU can execute instructions, are fundamental features used to improve CPU performance.
Deciding where and when to implement this Spectre Variant 2 mitigation is not straightforward and requires detailed examination by network administrators and security teams. Together, they must determine the correct balance between performance and security for processes that run on different machines, Cobb concludes.