How to Protect Your System With Intel Foreshadow Flaws

How to Protect Your System With Intel Foreshadow Flaws

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Another issue with speculative execution in Intel processors is foreshadowed, sometimes known as the L1 Terminal Fault. It allows malicious software to gain access to previously unaffected locations by the Spectre and Meltdown faults.

What is Foreshadow?

Foreshadow is a flaw in Intel’s Software Guard Extensions (SGX) technology, implemented into chips since 2015. It allows programs to construct secure enclaves that are inaccessible to other programs on the computer. In a nutshell, SGX was created to prevent the modification or disclosure of code.

Even if the computer has malware, the secure enclave is safe and unaffected in theory. However, even if the primary system was infiltrated, a hacker might use this flaw to write a program that exploited the vulnerability to read data assumed to be protected in the CPU. Suddenly, there’s the risk that data in a protected enclave may be duplicated and accessed elsewhere.

Two attacks are involved, known as “Foreshadow Next Generation” or simply Foreshadow-NG. They allow information to be accessed in System Management Mode (SMM) or through a virtual machine hypervisor.

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According to Intel, two groups of researchers originally discovered Foreshadow in January 2018. CVE-2018-3615 is the name of the vulnerability. CVE-2018-3620 and CVE-2018-3646 are new variants that extend the vulnerability to new SGX-enabled chips running hypervisors.

Only days after the world learned of the Spectre and Meltdown mega-flaws, the famous semiconductor maker uncovered Foreshadow. Foreshadow is the most recent and likely most well-known example of the Spectre-NG weakness.

What is the mechanism of the flaw?

These issues are exploited via speculative execution faults. Modern processors guess the code that will run next and execute it ahead of time to save time. Once a program attempts to run the code, the task is completed, and the processor is aware of the results. If it doesn’t, the processor has the option of discarding the findings.

However, this tentative execution leaves behind some evidence. Here’s an illustration. Programs can infer the data in a memory area based on the time it takes a speculative execution process to complete specific queries, even if they don’t have access to that area. Because malicious applications can use these ways to read protected memory, they could access data stored in the L1 cache — the CPU’s low-level memory that holds safe cryptographic keys.

To exploit Foreshadow, attackers only need to run code on the machine. It could be software running in a virtual machine or a standard user program without low-level system access; no special permissions are necessary.

A list of CPUs that are affected

Users who purchased an Intel system after late 2015 are likely to have one of the impacted CPUs. It’s worth noting that AMD and other vendors who don’t use SGX don’t have to worry about Intel foreshadow attacks.

  • Intel Xeon Processor D (1500, 2100)
  • Intel Xeon Processor Scalable Family
  • Intel Xeon Processor E7 v1/v2/v3/v4 Family
  • Intel Xeon Processor E5 v1/v2/v3/v4 Family
  • Intel Xeon Processor E3 v1/v2/v3/v4/v5/v6 Family
  • Intel Xeon processor 3400/3600/5500/5600/6500/7500 series
  • Intel Core X-series Processor Family for Intel X99 and X299 platforms
  • 2nd/3rd/4th/5th/6th/7th/8th generation Intel Core processors
  • Intel Core i3/i5/i7/M processor (45nm and 32nm)

According to Intel, systems that have already deployed firmware patches made available earlier this year and appropriate OS updates should be protected from Foreshadow. However, in data centers that use hypervisors vulnerable to Foreshadow-NG attacks, things could get a little more tricky.

Given Intel’s apparent long-term engineering solution, the flaws out of future CPUs may take some time to re-establish normalcy in this side of the chip trade.

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Three Facets of Foreshadowing

Foreshadow contains three different vulnerabilities, each with its CVE code:

  • The Software Guard Extensions (SGX) vulnerability is identified as CVE-2018-3615. “Unauthorized disclosure of information housed in the L1 data cache” could occur if a system uses SGX.
  • Operating systems and system management modes are affected by CVE-2018-3620 (SMM). “Speculative execution and address translations may allow unauthorised disclosure of information sitting in the L1 data cache,” according to the researchers.
  • CVE-2018-3646 is a vulnerability that affects virtual machines and hypervisors. The flaw “may allow unauthorised exposure of information sitting in the L1 data cache to an attacker with local user access and guest OS privilege,” according to the researchers.

How to protect your Windows computer now?

Here are some quick and easy ways to defend yourself right now:

  1. You should update your BIOS. Install the latest BIOS updates from the laptop or motherboard manufacturer to keep your laptop or desktop up to date (for a PC). This usually entails CPU microcode modifications.
  2. Windows should be updated. Please don’t rely on microcode updates alone; they must be used with OS updates to protect against malware that exploits Foreshadow. According to Microsoft’s official security alert, most Windows PCs require OS updates to be protected from the Foreshadow issue. Install the latest patches by running Windows Update.
  3. Anti-malware software should be used. Maintain current protection on your computer or laptop, which can assist detect and stopping malware before Windows or the processor’s security defenses are engaged. Auslogics Anti-Malware provides superior protection against malware and data security risks, detecting dangerous items that were previously unknown to exist, allowing for flexible scheduling of automatic scans, and double protection by catching stuff that your antivirus may have missed.

These faults may be a proof-of-concept for the time being, but it’s essential to come up with and implement strategies to defend a PC against Foreshadow flaws now. At the same time, future Intel CPUs are being armed with hardware upgrades for the sake of everyone’s peace of mind.


I hope you found this information helpful. Please fill out the form below if you have any queries or comments.

User Questions:

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