New Ninth-Gen Intel CPUs Shield Against Some Spectre, Meltdown Variants

New Intel Coffee Lake CPUs offer hardware-based protections against some -but not all- Spectre and Meltdown variants.

Intel’s new ninth-generation CPUs come packed with hardware-based protections against two variants of the infamous Meltdown and Spectre speculative execution attacks.

The ninth-generation desktop Core processors are dubbed Coffee Lake, and became available for preorder on Tuesday. they’re built to address the Meltdown V3 and L1 Terminal Fault variants.

“The new desktop processors include protections for the security vulnerabilities commonly referred to as ‘Spectre,’ ‘Meltdown’ and ‘L1TF,’” an Intel spokesperson told Threatpost. “These protections include a combination of the hardware design changes we announced earlier this year, as well as software and microcode updates.”

Spectre and Meltdown stem from a trick that computing processors use – speculative execution of memory – which helps them read memory before the addresses of all prior memory writes are known, ultimately increasing performance and speed.

The most common form of speculative execution allows a processor to predict the control flow instead of waiting for all branch instructions to resolve, to determine which operations are needed to execute. But, while this method helps processors stay as optimal as possible, it also enables an attacker with local user access using a side-channel analysis to gain unauthorized disclosure of information.

Earlier this year, Intel announced that it would implement hardware-based safeguards for its new chips to protect against this class of attacks. This set of CPU design features work with the operating system to install “virtual fences” to prevent side-channel inference, thus protecting the system from speculative execution attacks.

The new safeguards were also built into Intel’s next-generation Xeon Scalable processors, code-named Cascade Lake, as well as Intel’s eighth-gen Core processors, which are expected to ship before the end of the year.

Two variants are covered in these hardware-based protections:

A list of various Spectre and Meltdown Intel CPU protections shared with Threatpost by Intel.

One of those variants includes L1TF, a speculative-execution side-channel cache-timing vulnerability discovered in August. Three varieties of L1TF have been identified: CVE-2018-3615, CVE-2018-3620 and CVE-2018-3646.

The other addressed variant is Meltdown GPZ V3, or CVE-2017-5754, which stems from rogue data cache load and was discovered in January.

“In the new 8th Gen Intel Core U-series processor (WhiskeyLake) and 9th Gen Intel Core Desktop Processors (CoffeeLake), there are now hardware changes to protect against Meltdown (GPZ V3) and L1TF,” Intel told Threatpost.

In addition, Intel has released microcode updates for Intel microprocessor products launched in the last nine years that require protection against the side-channel vulnerabilities. That includes the company’s newer Skylake, Kaby Lake and Cannon Lake platforms, as well as its Broadwell and Haswell platforms, which were patched in February.

These hardware-based protections are specific to certain variants, and  – as reported by Threatpost earlier this year – will not impact the newly-discovered Variant 4 or ot