Microsoft and Google have jointly revealed a new chip security flaw similar to the Meltdown and Spectre flaws that were revealed as well earlier this year.

Cybersecurity researchers of both tech companies have found a new security flaw that affects a broad swath of modern computing chips.

Following the reveal of so-called Spectre and Meltdown exploits, both companies, as well as Intel, have discovered a new exploit or a chip flaw in which they labeled it “Variant 4”.

Variant 4, Software Patches

The newest chip flaw problem, known as Speculative Store Bypass or “Variant 4” because it’s in the same family as the original group of flaws, has been revealed by security researchers at Microsoft and Google.

Although the flaw affects many chips from Intel Corp, Advanced Micro Devices Inc and Softbank Group’s ARM Holdings, researchers describe the risks as low, partly because of web browser patches already issued earlier this year to address Spectre.

 “Variant 4 uses speculative execution, a feature common to most modern processor architectures, to potentially, expose certain kinds of data through a side channel,” Intel said in a statement.

In Microsoft’s research findings, it said that patches issued for common web browsers earlier this year greatly increased the difficulty of carrying out an attack with the newly discovered flaw.

Chips from Intel, AMD, and ARM all have patches available, either directly from the makers or through software suppliers such as Microsoft.

Intel said it expects a performance slowdown of between 2 percent and 8 percent from the patches, and ARM said it expects a slowdown of between 1 percent and 2 percent.

Future Meltdown & Spectre


The Meltdown and Spectre flaws, which emerged in January, can allow passwords and other sensitive data on chips to be read. The flaws result from the way computers try to guess what users are likely to do next, a process called speculative execution.

When the flaws emerged in January, researchers warned that they were likely to find new variants of Spectre in the future.

Earlier this month, German computer science magazine c't reported that a "next generation" of flaws had been found in Intel's chips and was likely to be disclosed this month. Intel declined to comment on whether Monday's announcement was related to the German magazine's story.

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