By the numbers, 2017 was a fantastic year for Intel—it collected a record $62.8 billion in revenue for the full year, including $17.1 billion in the fourth quarter alone, which was also a record. Naturally Intel was quick to point out those facts when discussing its latest financial results, though the question on everyone's mind is not how much money Intel is raking in, but what is it doing about Spectre and Meltdown? The answer is, it's making changes to its silicon.
Ever since these vulnerabilities were made public, Intel has contended that its chips are not flawed, they are working as intended. Part of that distinction comes from Intel rightfully pointing out that these vulnerabilities are not unique to its chips, that "many different vendors' processors and operating systems are susceptible."
Call it what you will, it's a bad situation for all involved, and it seems to get messier by the day—initial firmware updates designed to mitigate the threats posed by Spectre and Meltdown were causing random reboots in some machines.
It's also temporary. According to HotHardware, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich stated during an earnings call that changes are being made to the actual silicon of unreleased processors to protect against Spectre and Meltdown.
"Security is a top priority for Intel, foundational to our products and it's critical to the success of our data-centric strategy. Our near-term focus is on delivering high quality mitigations to protect our customers' infrastructure from these exploits," Krzanich said.
"We're working to incorporate silicon-based changes to future products that will directly address the Spectre and Meltdown threats in hardware. And those products will begin appearing later this year," Krzanich added.
Intel also said that it began shipping some 10nm products late in 2017 and will continue ramping toward volume production later this year. That is in reference to Cannon Lake, the next major architecture from Intel. It will be interesting to see if Cannon Lake is immune to Spectre and Meltdown from a hardware standpoint.
If that is the case, as ExtremeTech points out, it means Intel must have known about these exploits long before they became public knowledge. The initial research papers indicate that CPU manufacturers were notified of the vulnerabilities last June, and given a six month window to fix things. That's also interesting, in light of Krzanich's recent stock dump.
After Cannon Lake comes Ice Lake, which will be its second generation 10nm architecture. If Cannon Lake is immune to Spectre and Meltdown, then Ice Lake should follow suit.
One other thing to note is that these might not be the last major exploits Intel and other chip makers have to worry about.
"The publicity around recently disclosed security vulnerabilities may result in increased attempts by third parties to identify additional vulnerabilities, and future vulnerabilities and mitigation of those vulnerabilities may also adversely impact our results of operations, customer relationships, and reputation," Intel stated in its earnings report under the forward-looking statement section.
It underscores the double-edged sword that comes from companies like Google (Project Zero) rooting out vulnerabilities, particularly ones that have been around for several years (and even decades) without any active attacks.