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Cyber security, two serious vulnerabilities in billion chips discovered

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researchers discover two serious vulnerabilities in computer chips made by Intel Corp. and STMicroelectronics. Malicious hackers could have employed timing side-channel attacks to steal cryptographic keys

Two serious vulnerabilities in computer chips made by Intel Corp. and STMicroelectronics. They have been discovered by Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) cyber security researchers Berk Sunar and Daniel Moghimi, who led an international team that published the proof-of-concept attack dubbed TPM-Fail. According to Yahoo! Finance, the flaws affect billions of laptop, server, tablet, and desktop users around the world. The vulnerabilities, which have been addressed, would have allowed malicious hackers to employ timing side-channel attacks to steal cryptographic keys that are supposed to remain safely inside the chips. The recovered keys could be used to compromise a computer’s operating system, forge digital signatures on documents, and steal or alter encrypted information.

The cyber security experts: The flaws are located in TPMs

According the cyber security experts, the flaws are located in TPMs, or trusted platform modules, which are specialized, tamper-resistant chips that computer manufacturers have been deploying in nearly all laptops, smart phones, and tablets for the past 10 years. Following an international security standard, TPMs are used to secure encryption keys for hardware authentication and cryptographic keys, including signature keys and smart card certificates. Pushing the security down to the hardware level offers more protection than a software-only solution and is required by some core security services. The paper will be presented at the 29th USENIX Security Symposium in Boston next August. And also at the Real World Crypto Symposium in New York City in January.

Where are located the two chip vulnerabilities

One of the flaws is in Intel’s TPM firmware, or fTPM—software that runs in the Security and Management Engine in processors the company has produced since it launched its Haswell processor microarchitecture in 2013. Haswell CPUs are used in the popular Core i3, i5, and i7 family of processors. The vulnerability is in the chip that supports trusted execution services—what should be a secure area of the processor. These small crypto chips are the basis of the root of trust for a large portion of the computers used today. The idea is that if the TPM is secure, so is the rest of the computer. The second is in STMicroelectronics’ TPM. Once discovered, the flaws were reported to the chip makers by the WPI researchers, who also have described the vulnerabilites, how they were discovered, and how they could have been exploited.

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