How an industry-breaking bug stayed secret for seven months — and then leaked out
When Graz University of Technology researcher Michael Schwarz first reached out to Intel, he thought he was about to ruin the company’s day. He had found a problem with their chips, together with his colleagues Daniel Gruss, Moritz Lipp, and Stefan Mangard. The vulnerability was both profound and immediately exploitable. His team finished the exploit on December 3rd, a Sunday afternoon. Realizing the gravity of what they’d found, they emailed Intel immediately.
It would be nine days until Schwarz heard back. But when he got on the phone with someone from Intel, Schwarz got a surprise: the company already knew about the CPU problems and was desperately figuring out how to fix them. Moreover, the company was doing its best to make sure no one else found out. They thanked Schwarz for his contribution, but told him what he had found was top secret, and gave him a precise day when the secret could be revealed.
The flaw Schwarz — and, he learned, many others — had discovered was potentially devastating: a design-level chip flaw that could slow down every processor in the world, with no perfect fix short of a gut redesign. It affected almost every major tech company in the world, from Amazon’s server farms to the chipmakers like Intel and ARM. But Schwarz had also come up against a secondary problem: how do you keep a flaw this big a secret long enough for everyone involved to fix it?
Adafruit publishes a wide range of writing and video content, including interviews and reporting on the maker market and the wider technology world. Our standards page is intended as a guide to best practices that Adafruit uses, as well as an outline of the ethical standards Adafruit aspires to. While Adafruit is not an independent journalistic institution, Adafruit strives to be a fair, informative, and positive voice within the community – check it out here: adafruit.com/editorialstandards
Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.
Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.