Intel chips hit by major bug that could cause millions of computers to slow down when fixed

Andrew Griffin

A huge security flaw in Intel chips could affect computers across the world, and bring problems to many of the computers currently being used.

The details of the bug haven't been revealed. It is thought to affect most Intel chips made in the last decade – meaning that the millions of computers that have them inside could be exposed, including the computer this article is being read on.

The bug can be fixed. But the fixes themselves are going to cause significant disruption: computers might have to be slowed down by as much as 30 per cent once they're updated.

And actually installing those updates could cause global problems. Cloud tools like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure – which together run a significant portion of the internet – will have to be rebooted in order for the fix to take effect, potentially causing disruption to the most core parts of the web.

The problem appears to be a result of the way the chips allow programs to access secure parts of its memory. If that is abused, it is thought it would allow applications to read the most sensitive parts of a computer, potentially giving people access to people's most personal information.

To fix that, developers appear to be separating the core part of the computer, known as the kernel, away from the memory that is used by other programmes. Doing that keeps the sensitive data safe – but it also makes it much harder to access, meaning that some actions take as much as 30 per cent longer.

So few details have been made available about the bug that it's impossible even to know how dangerous or widespread it is. But computer companies around the world are scrambling to fix it, suggesting that it could be incredibly dangerous if it is used.