AS HEARD ON: WTAG – Simple Explanation of Intel Chip Security Problem: AS HEARD ON – WTAG NewsRadio 580 [01-09-18]

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Get the simplest explanation on the recent Intel chip security problem as Craig joins Jim Polito, discussing what the decades-old vulnerability is all about, and the possibilities of preventing it.

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Below is a rush transcript of this segment, it might contain errors.


Airing date: 01/09/2018


Simple Explanation of Intel Chip Security Problem



Craig Peterson: [00:00:00] Ok so you know how sometimes I can get a little bit excited. Well, that’s what happened today with me on the Jim Polito show covering Mass and parts of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont. But wow. This whole Intel CPU thing. I explained it in very much layman’s terms what’s going on. I can’t believe the response I had after the fact. You know I have this text number you can text your e-mail address too and I’ll send information out. In fact I’ll be sending more out today to those people that signed up via text at 855-385-5553. But anyways the response was overwhelming. So a lot of people are concerned. I don’t know. I’m mostly concerned that people are just getting overwhelmed because it’s like every week we’ve got a new one of these worst hacks ever. I don’t know how to deal with this. I just don’t. This is huge. It’s going to affect us at the very least just going to slow our computers down. I don’t know maybe Intel’s going to pull something out that is really going to fix this problem. But wow. We’ll see. Anyway here we go with Jim Polito.


Jim Polito: [00:01:23] It’s Craig Peterson, our Tech Talk guru. And boy there’s a lot of vulnerabilities out there right now and who’s on top of them? Our man here he is Craig Peterson. Good morning sir.


Craig: [00:01:40] Hey good morning. Another week another major vulnerability. And you know what Jim this one is probably the worst vulnerability ever seen. Now I’ve said that before. Right?


Jim: [00:01:54] I know. But they all, they keep getting worse.


Craig: [00:01:59] They really do.


Jim: [00:02:02] I know you’re not hyping this.


Craig: [00:02:05] This week is the Consumer Electronics Show right out in Vegas started out today. And there’s a, you know, keynotes and a whole lot of tech news going on. You know nothing terribly innovative this year. CES we’re seeing you know oh wow, a 4K TV. I’ve never seen that before. And you know they’ve got new portable hard disk with it with an orange stripe around the sides. Yeah, big deal exactly right. One of the things that came out was Intel. Now oh my gosh. They have not only admitted to this flaw that exists in every Intel’s CPU made since 1995. Pretty much everyone.


Jim: [00:02:54] Wait a minute. The CPU is basically the brain of a computer right?


Craig: [00:02:59] Exactly. It’s the brain of your laptop most likely, even if it’s Mac. Right. It’s the brain of your tablets. Depending on what they are. Surface tablets certainly. The Intel CPU is the brain that controls the water that flows through the waste processing plant. The Intel CPU that controls the traffic lights down at the corner. This Intel CPUs are everywhere. Now. they’re not the only guys. AMD is out there. They’ve made some great CPUs for a lot of years. They compete with Intel directly. Intel stock prices of course failed. And at the same time AMD’s prices went up. And speaking of stock prices falling, Jim, it turns out that Intel’s CEO found out about this flaw that we’re going to talk about.


Jim: [00:03:52] Oh not another one of these.


Craig: [00:03:54] 23 million dollars. He’s sold every share he could possibly sell before it was announced to the public.


Jim: [00:04:04] Wow.


Craig: [00:04:05] So yeah is that a big deal. I kind of think it might be right.


Jim: [00:04:09] It is.


Craig: [00:04:10] I’m a little bit of insider trading perhaps here just maybe. So they knew about this last year probably in the October timeframe. And so the intel the Intel CEO is up there in Vegas giving his keynote speech. He’s the first keynote speech not realizing when that was scheduled. What kind of a firestorm would be happening right about them. But he said 90 percent of processors and products from the last five years would be “patched” within a week.


Now let’s talk about this flaw just a tad. Intel, you know, CPUs. You know we have Moore’s Law has been around for a long time and saying that processing power doubles every 18 months or so. And it’s kind of followed that. But there is a problem here. We’re starting to see limits when it comes to physics because the electricity only travels so fast, you know the speed of light. So they try to make these things smaller and smaller. And we can only get so small and so Moore’s Law was kind of slowed down. So what Intel and other companies have done is they said well let’s figure some teeth. What are some ways that we can make a computer faster effectively without making it faster? So they make multiple cores. So your computer might have 3, 4, 5, 16 CPUs in it or more. That’s one way to make it faster if your programs can use that. Another way is to have a computer guess what needs to be done next. And so what it does.


Jim: [00:05:54] Guess? Wait a minute. Hold on a second. Who? Guess?


Craig: [00:05:59] Guess. Yes exactly.


Jim: [00:06:02] How are the computers supposed to guess?


Craig: [00:06:06] Well that’s exactly what they do. So here’s what happened. It’s running the program and the program says well add this number add that number. Now if this number is greater than that number then do this. But if that number is left. OK? So what it’ll do is it will start running code that it doesn’t need to be run yet. So it’s guessing that this comparison is eventually going to go this way. So eventually you’re going to have to turn right on Main Street OK. So the CPU starts running ahead, it’s saying oh great. You know I can’t be any faster but I can guess.


Jim: [00:06:43] I can’t be any faster but I’m going to take a wild guess here. Didn’t Hal do that in 2001” A Space Odyssey?


Craig: [00:06:54] Exactly. But you know we don’t have the pod bay doors yet.


Jim: [00:06:59] Open the pod bay door, Craig. Open the pod bay door, Craig. No, I’m sorry. Go ahead.


Craig: [00:07:01] These CPUs guess to try and speed it up right? Now so they can be a long ways ahead of the real execution and be guessing. And so here’s where the problem comes in. And you know this is slightly technical but I think a lot of people don’t know how this works. The problem is that the CPU is designed to not allow programs to interfere with each other. Makes sense? So you don’t want a piece of bad program to cause another program to crash. Or a bad program to maybe get into another program’s address space to see passwords. See all kinds of things. Well it turns out that this guessing code just doesn’t bother to inform or excuse me to control where computer programs can look and what they can do.


Jim: [00:07:57] So if want to sneak in.


Craig: [00:08:01] Right exactly. And look at maybe passwords. Look at may be your financial transactions. So bottom line Jim what the problem is resulting in anything running on an Intel chip that vulnerable can do almost anything. And that means you could go to a Web site and at that Web site there’s this you know there’s little bits of code on the Web site page right. And your computer supposed to protect itself. But by going to that Web site page could completely compromise your computer unbeknownst to you. Anything that computer dies even when it’s in the protected mode is completely 100 percent beyond a doubt, no two ways about it, completely hackable.


Jim: [00:08:57] This is like building a giant castle with impregnable walls and then having an open doorway.


Craig: [00:09:08] Yeah exactly. It’s like having you can have a moat and impassible doorways. Yeah and a little switch outside that you just click the switch, and it lets you in.


Jim: [00:09:16] And it lets you right in. All the troops mass outside the castle and they’re like we’re never going to get these guys out of here. The siege begins and then somebody says no just go throw that switch and the drawbridge comes down. Clink, clink, clink, clink. Come on in everybody.


Craig: [00:09:36] Well I’m laughing because I’m so upset.


Jim: [00:09:47] Here’s the question. And I think I know the answer already. There’s nothing I can do about this right?


Craig: [00:09:47] Yeah. There are a couple of things and I’m going to try and put something together today but there are only minor things. OK. This problem cannot be I say that they cannot be fixed. OK. There are workarounds for it. They can slow your computer down by as much as 30 some estimates even as much as it will slow your computer down as much as 50 percent. OK. So there are workarounds. But apparently this problem cannot be fixed because it is in silicone inside Intel processors.


Jim: [00:10:22] It’s not a software issue. It’s like the castle and the switch.


Craig: [00:10:30] Well Intel, I have criticized Intel for the last 35, 40 years because their designs are terrible. This is a memory manufacturer that went on to happen to make CPUs OK? It was chosen that became who it is because IBM thought well we were going to make a little computer here for a small computer for business. No one’s going to buy it. Nobody cares who makes the cheapest processor out there. I don’t care how good it is or how crappy it is. Oh Intel OK. We’ll buy that processor. And they’ve discontinued that. So just a quick example. IBM makes a power line of processors. These things are phenomenal. And the chips that Intel makes have it all built in. It’s hard to change what’s called the microcode. It’s impossible in some parts of these chips. In the IBM world everything can be fixed. Everything is software. Even hardware is software. They do it right.


Craig: [00:11:28] You know I guess a plug for IBM. I don’t know IBM.


Jim: [00:09:47] A plug for IBM as opposed to…


Craig: [00:11:41] Exactly. So if you have Intel inside, if you have Intel inside make sure you patch. If you have a Mac make sure you’re running High Sierra. Apple has already fixed some of these problems. There are three major problems. We talked about one. And Microsoft has not fixed it. There will be patches out. It affects almost everything you can think of. And I’ve got to tell you if North Korea wanted to bring our economy to its knees, this is the way to do it. Just put some stuff up on some Web sites and you could bring it down to our national infrastructure.


Jim: [00:12:20] Alright, Craig Peterson son. Here is the number folks that you text my name to to get these patches and this information. Go for it buddy.


Craig: [00:12:29] It’s 855-385-5553. I’ll send stuff out later today. It’s 855-385-5553.


Jim: [00:12:40] That’s right. And standard data and text rates apply. Craig always a pleasure. Thank you for the good and bad news.


Craig: [00:12:50] You’re welcome. Sorry we went long.


Jim: [00:09:50] That’s alright. No problem it was important information. Look at that. Baked right into the Intel chip. And Danny, that’s all I looked for when I would buy a laptop. I thought that meant that was the good one. That was the good one yeah. That’s why we need Craig Peterson. You’re listening to the Jim Polito show.


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