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Intel RFDS Vulnerability: Impact on Processor Performance and Fixes

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16.03.2024 19:49, Vladimir Chizhevsky

Recently it became known that an RFDS vulnerability was discovered in Intel’s energy-efficient E-cores. These cores are used in almost all of the latest generations of Intel consumer processors, from Alder Lake to the latest Meteor Lake, as well as in Atom chips. There is already a protection mechanism against malware that exploits this vulnerability, and enabling its protection affects system performance.

Image source: pixabay.com

Register File Data Sampling (RFDS) is one of the latest discovered vulnerabilities in Intel processors that allows attackers to gain access to processor registers and the data stored in them. Compared to the previously disclosed Meltdown and Downfall vulnerabilities, RFDS is not that widespread, as it only affects processors with energy-efficient E-cores, including Gracemont and Crestmont cores.

Image source: phoronix.com

Intel has already begun fixing the vulnerability, offering operating system patches and microcode updates. Phoronix tested the impact of the patches by running 46 benchmark tests on a Core i9-14900K on Linux. On average, productivity drops by 5%: in some texts the drop reaches 10%, in others productivity remains approximately at the same level.

This is not such a significant drop compared to the fixes for the above-mentioned Downfall, where performance losses sometimes reached 39%. A slight drop in performance may be due to the fact that under-performing cores used for background tasks and heavy multi-threaded workloads were affected.

To eliminate the vulnerability, you need to update the operating system and microcode. Motherboard manufacturers have been slow to release BIOS updates to address RFDS, but Linux users have already received updated microcode with an operating system update. Windows users will likely also receive patches with the next update.

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