31 hardware and firmware vulnerabilities: A guide to the threats

Meltdown and Spectre raised the alarm over vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit in popular hardware and its firmware. Here's a roundup of the ones that present the most significant threats.

In January 2018, the entire computer industry was put on alert by two new processor vulnerabilities dubbed Meltdown and Spectre that defeated the fundamental OS security boundaries separating kernel and user space memory. The flaws stemmed from a performance feature of modern CPUs known as speculative execution and mitigating them required one of the biggest patch coordination efforts in history, involving CPU makers, device manufacturers and operating system vendors.

Meltdown and Spectre were certainly not the first vulnerabilities to result from a hardware design decision, but their widespread impact sparked the interest of the security research community into such flaws. Since then, many researchers, both from academia and the private sector, have been studying the low-level operation of CPUs and other hardware components and have been uncovering more and more issues.

Some hardware vulnerabilities are impossible to mitigate completely without releasing a new generation of components, while others can be fixed in firmware, the low-level programming present in hardware chips. In either case, patching is not straightforward, so such flaws can continue to impact real world devices for a very long time.

Here is a list of hardware-related vulnerabilities, discovered both before and after Meltdown, that you should be aware of:

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