Intel Will Not Patch Spectre in Some CPUs

Intel has informed customers that some of the processors affected by the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities will not receive microcode updates due to issues related to implementation and other factors.

Two weeks after announcing that microcode updates have been made available for all recent processors vulnerable to speculative execution side-channel attacks, Intel updated its microcode revision guidance to say that some chips will not receive patches.

The list includes Core, Xeon, Celeron, Pentium, and Atom processors with Bloomfield (Xeon), Clarksfield, Gulftown, Harpertown Xeon, Jasper Forest, Penryn/QC, SoFIA 3GR, Wolfdale (Xeon) and Yorkfield (Xeon) microarchitectures. These products have been assigned a “stopped” status, which indicates they will not receive updates due to one or more reasons.

Intel says it has conducted a comprehensive investigation of the microarchitecture and microcode capabilities of these CPUs and determined that some of their characteristics prevent a practical implementation of mitigations for Spectre Variant 2 (CVE-2017-5715).

Other possible reasons for not releasing fixes include limited commercially available system software support and low risk of attacks.

“Based on customer inputs, most of these products are implemented as ‘closed systems’ and therefore are expected to have a lower likelihood of exposure to these vulnerabilities,” Intel explained.

Intel revealed recently that its upcoming processors for data centers and PCs will include built-in protections against Meltdown (Variant 3) and Spectre (Variant 2) attacks. The chip giant expects to roll out these protections in the second half of 2018.

“We have redesigned parts of the processor to introduce new levels of protection through partitioning that will protect against both Variants 2 and 3,” explained Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. “Think of this partitioning as additional ‘protective walls’ between applications and user privilege levels to create an obstacle for bad actors.”

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against Intel by customers and shareholders over the disclosure and handling of Meltdown and Spectre.

Related: IBM Releases Spectre, Meltdown Patches for Power Systems

Related: New AMD Processors to Include Protections for Spectre-like Exploits

Related: Microsoft, Intel Share Data on Performance Impact of CPU Flaw Patches

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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