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This dangerous Intel CPU vulnerability could allow attackers to break into your laptop

Representational image depecting cybersecurity protection
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Intel has disclosed a high-severity elevation of privilege vulnerability that affects a wide range of processor families made in the past few years.

The flaw, tracked as CVE-2021-0146 was discovered by Positive Technologies. It stems from an overprivileged debugging system that’s insufficiently protected, and can be exploited by attackers to access encrypted files.

According to Positive Technologies, the vulnerability affects the Pentium, Celeron and Atom processors of the Apollo Lake, Gemini Lake and Gemini Lake Refresh platforms, which are popularly used in mobile devices, embedded systems, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as smart home appliances, medical equipment, and smart cars.

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High severity vulnerability

Citing an example of a real world threat, Mark Ermolov, the cybersecurity researcher who discovered the bug, says attackers can use the vulnerability to extract the encryption key and access confidential encrypted information from a lost or stolen laptop.

“The bug can also be exploited in targeted attacks across the supply chain. For example, an employee of an Intel processor-based device supplier could, in theory, extract the Intel CSME [Converged Security and Management Engine] firmware key and deploy spyware that security software would not detect,” adds Ermolov.

Furthermore, the severity of the vulnerability can be assessed from the fact that it can also facilitate the extraction of the root encryption key used in Intel Platform Trust Technology (PTT) and Intel Enhanced Privacy ID (EPID) technologies. 

Ermolov says several Amazon e-book models use Intel EPID-based protection for digital rights management (DRM), and the bug can enable attackers to break into the devices and download DRM-protected content. 

The good news is that Intel has released a firmware update to mitigate this flaw, and the researchers suggest users immediately install the UEFI BIOS updates published by the manufacturers of their affected devices.

Mayank Sharma

With almost two decades of writing and reporting on Linux, Mayank Sharma would like everyone to think he’s TechRadar Pro’s expert on the topic. Of course, he’s just as interested in other computing topics, particularly cybersecurity, cloud, containers, and coding.