Meltdown-Spectre firmware glitch: Intel warns of risk of sudden reboots

Jan. 12, 2018

Intel has revealed that a glitch in its patch for the Meltdown and Spectre CPU attacks is causing problems on PCs and datacenter equipment.

Intel’s firmware, which is delivered by hardware OEMs, is causing higher system reboots on systems with older Broadwell and Haswell CPUs.

Intel posted the notice after The Wall Street Journal revealed Intel had quietly told some customers to defer installing its patches due to bugs in them. The company works directly with datacenter customers, whereas device makers and operating-system providers deliver its microcode updates to consumers.

Intel may provide a revised firmware update to OEMs, pending the results of its investigation of customer reports.

Consumers with Intel devices will need to install software updates from operating-system providers and firmware updates from hardware makers to fully mitigate the trio of speculative side-channel vulnerabilities revealed by Google’s Project Zero researchers.

While the Meltdown attack largely only affects Intel chips, AMD revealed Jan. 11 that its Ryzen and EPYC chips are affected by the two Spectre vulnerabilities.

It’s developing “optional” microcode updates that will be delivered to customers and partners this week, with additional updates for older CPUs coming soon.

And Intel isn’t alone in cleaning up buggy patches. Microsoft last week halted the latest Windows update carrying Meltdown and Spectre fixes for AMD systems after customers reported boot failures.

Microsoft said it had been provided incorrect documentation for some AMD chips for which it was developing patches.

AMD said it is working with Microsoft to resolve this issue, which affects Opteron, Athlon, and Turion X2 Ultra chips. Microsoft should resume distribution of the revised patches for AMD systems next week, according to AMD. Details can be found on Microsoft’s support page for the AMD update.

AMD noted that its Radeon GPUs are not affected by Meltdown and Spectre since these architectures don’t use speculative execution.

GPU maker Nvidia this week also released a patch for these CPU bugs, a move widely taken to mean its GPUs were also vulnerable. However, as with AMD’s GPUs, Nvidia’s GPU hardware is immune to the attacks. Its patch provided mitigations to its GPU drivers for CPUs on various operating systems.

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