Researchers find new vulnerability with Apple Silicon chips

Researchers have released details of an Apple Silicon vulnerability dubbed “Augury.” However, it doesn’t seem to be a huge issue at the moment.

Jose Rodrigo Sanchez Vicarte from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Michael Flanders of the University of Washington published their findings of a flaw within Apple Silicon. The vulnerability itself is due to a flaw in Apple’s implementation of the Data-Memory Dependent Prefetcher (DMP).

In short, a DMP looks at memory to determine what content to “prefetch” for the CPU. The researchers found that Apple’s M1, M1 Max, and A14 chips used an “array of pointers” pattern that loops through an array and dereferences the contents.

This could possibly leak data that’s not read because it gets dereferenced by the prefetcher. Apple’s implementation is different from a traditional prefetcher as explained by the paper.

“Once it has seen *arr[0] … *arr[2] occur (even speculatively!) it will begin prefetching *arr[3] onward. That is, it will first prefetch ahead the contents of arr and then dereference those contents. In contrast, a conventional prefetcher would not perform the second step/dereference operation.”

Because the CPU cores never read the data, defenses that try to track access to the data don’t work against the Augery vulnerability.

David Kohlbrenner, assistant professor at the University of Washington, downplayed the impact of Augery, noting that Apple’s DMP “is about the weakest DMP an attacker can get.”

The good news here is that this is about the weakest DMP an attacker can get. It only prefetches when content is a valid virtual address, and has number of odd limitations. We show this can be used to leak pointers and break ASLR.

We believe there are better attacks possible.

— David Kohlbrenner (@dkohlbre) April 29, 2022

For now, researchers say that only the pointers can be accessed and even then via the research sandbox environment used to research the vulnerability. Apple was also notified about the vulnerability before the public disclosure, so a patch is likely incoming soon.

Apple issued a March 2022 patch for MacOS Monterey that fixed some nasty Bluetooth and display bugs. It also patched two vulnerabilities that allowed an application to execute code with kernel-level privileges.

Other critical fixes to Apple’s desktop operating system include one that patched a vulnerability that exposed browsing data in the Safari browser.

Finding bugs in Apple’s hardware can sometimes net a pretty profit. A Ph.D. student from Georgia Tech found a major vulnerability that allowed unauthorized access to the webcam. Apple handsomely rewarded him about $100,000 for his efforts.

Editors’ Choice

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US sanctions a Chinese surveillance company with Silicon Valley funding

The US Department of Commerce has sanctioned 14 Chinese tech companies over links to human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, including one backed by a top Silicon Valley investment firm.

DeepGlint, also known as Beijing Geling Shentong Information Technology Co., Ltd., is a facial recognition company with deep ties to Chinese police surveillance, and funding from US-based Sequoia Capital. Today the Commerce Department added it to its Entity List, which restricts US companies from doing business with listed firms without a special license. Sequoia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

DeepGlint co-founded a facial recognition lab in 2018 with Chinese authorities in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, according to the South China Morning Post. It has also gained international bragging rights through the US National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Face Recognition Vendor Test. DeepGlint claimed top accuracy in the test as of January 2021, giving it a potent marketing tool in the security and surveillance industry.

While DeepGlint has been accepted for a public offering on Shanghai’s STAR stock exchange, the firm hasn’t seen the commercial success of other AI startups in the country, explained Jeffrey Ding in his ChinAI newsletter last month. Since the firm is so heavily invested in government work, it has to follow slow government procurement cycles and is unlikely to score huge infrastructure projects, Ding writes.

Sequoia Capital has funded another company that later ended up on the Entity List. In 2020, Sequoia-backed Yitu Technology was added to the list for similar human rights abuses. Sequoia invested in DeepGlint back in 2014, before China’s genocide of Uyghurs had come to light. (The same year, Bill Gates also referred to the startup as “very cool,” according to KrAsia.)

The Commerce Department also sanctioned Xinjiang Lianhai Chuangzhi Company and Chengdu Xiwu Security System Alliance, two subsidiaries of Chinese military contractors. They both offer surveillance equipment and services, according to their websites and academic reports. Xinjiang Lianhai Chuangzhi Company created an AI-powered checkpoint system that is able to track Uyghurs as they move around cities, according to a report from the Italian Institute for International Political Studies.

Another firm sanctioned today is Leon Technology, a surveillance company that was controlled by Chinese AI giant SenseTime until its role providing oppressive technology in Xinjiang was reported in 2019. SenseTime then divested its 51 percent stake in it.

The Commerce Department sanctions also included nine other Chinese companies for national security reasons, as well as companies in Iran, Russia, and Canada, among other countries.

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Redesigned Silicon iMac Not Expected To Launch Until 2022

Apple tipster @dylandkt on Twitter has predicted that the larger redesigned iMac with a Silicon chip is going to launch in 2022, as opposed to earlier speculations about it launching in the fourth quarter of 2021.

He claims that a probable reason behind this could be Apple attempting to boost M1X MacBook Pro’s sales, which are is set to release at the end of this year.

The high end iMac will release in 2022. ????

— Dylan (@dylandkt) July 23, 2021

Reportedly, the redesigned Apple Silicon iMac will leverage the same hardware as the MacBook Pros that are set to be launched soon. Provided this prediction is true, there could be a number of reasons why the company postponed the release, but Apple wanting to drive up the MacBook Pro’s sales seems to be the most obvious one.

Dylan says, “Apple simply does not want their devices to compete for attention and delays in product releases have led to this timetable.” Releasing both products around the same time could mean both of them may not receive the same amount of attention with one of the two products stealing the spotlight from the other.

Dylan has previously claimed that the M1X Apple Silicon is reserved for ‘Pro’ Macs that include both of the MacBook Pro models that are set to release later this year, specifically between September to November, and the redesigned high-end iMac that has most likely been postponed to be launched in 2022.

MacRumors reports that Bloomberg journalist, Mark Gurman, has echoed Dylan’s claim about the new iMac featuring the M1X or M2X chip, however, he has stayed silent about its release details.

The 24-inch iMac that was launched earlier this spring was the first iMac to host Apple’s own M1 chip. Hence, the upcoming versions sporting the M1X or the M2X chips will certainly be more powerful than the one that was released last year. The upcoming versions will also mirror a number of features that we saw in the last 24-inch version of the iMac. These include a thinner design, a better webcam, improved high-end mics, and smaller side and top bezels. Whether or not this larger, more powerful iMac will feature the large chin bezel is still unknown.

The same Apple leaker correctly predicted the next-gen iPad Pro to feature the M1 chip five months prior to its release. Still, these should all be considered rumors right now. We know Apple will eventually replace its Intel-powered 27-inch iMac, but the details are still to be confirmed. That includes whether or not Apple will re-adopt the “iMac Pro” moniker for this particular release.

Editors’ Choice

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This Flexible Processor is Made Out of Plastic, Not Silicon

The processors of the future might not be made with silicon as they have been for nearly 50 years. New research headed by ARM and PragmaIC has produced a flexible processor made out of plastic. The PlasticARM processor provides a look at the future, where microprocessors can show up in everything from clothes to milk jugs.

Researchers published their findings in Nature, unveiling the world’s “most complex flexible integrated circuit built with metal-oxide TFTs.” TFTs, or thin-film transistors, enable processors to be built on flexible surfaces. Over silicon, building on plastic would allow chip makers to create chips more cheaply and apply them in more unique ways.

The researchers point out bottles, food packages, garments, wearable patches, and bandages as only a few applications of a flexible processor. In the future, smart milk jugs could let you know when your milk has soured or you could monitor your vitals through a wearable patch. A key part of this innovation, according to researchers, is cost. Plastic manufacturing would make chips a viable addition to everyday objects.

As for the PlasticARM processor itself, it’s a 32-bit microprocessor that’s based on ARM’s Cortex-M0+ processor, and it supports the ARMv6-M architecture. This instruction set already has a toolchain for software development, so developers could design programs for the processor the researchers built. According to the paper, the PlasticARM system on a chip (SoC) is “capable of running programs from its internal memory.”

The design (pictured above) is comprised of a 32-bit processor, over 18,000 logic gates, memory, and a controller. Researchers say that future iterations could include up to 100,000 logic gates before power consumption becomes an issue.

The paper is quick to point out that this development isn’t intended to replace silicon. According to the paper “silicon will maintain advantages in terms of performance, density and power efficiency.” TFTs simply enable wider adoption of processors in “novel form factors and at cost points unachievable with silicon, thereby vastly expanding the range of potential applications.”

PlasticARM could pioneer a new “internet of everything,” where more than a trillion objects will be able to take advantage of a dedicated processor. As Intel’s 4-bit 4004 CPU did almost 50 years ago, PlasticARM could begin a new era of innovation in computing.

Editors’ Choice

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Intel launches more silicon and software for 5G wireless networks

Elevate your enterprise data technology and strategy at Transform 2021.

Intel made the case today that its silicon chips and software are accelerating 5G wireless networks at the edge, and the big chipmaker is launching new chips to further improve its position in virtual radio access networks (vRAN) and other 5G technologies.

Intel VP Dan Rodriguez made the announcements in a keynote speech for the virtual Mobile World Congress event. By 2023, experts expect 75% of data will be created outside of the datacenter — at the edge in factories, hospitals, retail stores, and across cities. Developers want to converge various capabilities at the edge, such as AI, analytics, media, and networking, and Intel wants to be there with the right technology.

In a recent survey of 511 information technology decision-makers, over 78% said they believe 5G technology is crucial to keeping pace with innovation, and nearly 80% said 5G technologies will affect their businesses, Intel reported.

With this in mind, Rodriguez said Reliance Jio, Deutsche Telekom, and Dish Wireless are transforming their networks on Intel architecture. The vRAN promises cloud-like agility and automation capabilities that can help optimize the RAN performance and ultimately improve the experience for users.

Intel is also expanding its family of Agilex FPGA (field programmable gate array), or highly programmable chips. The company is adding a new FPGA with integrated cryptography acceleration that can support MACSec in 5G applications. This adds another layer of security to vRAN at the fronthaul, midhaul, and backhaul levels.

Above: Intel is unveiling new 5G wireless network tech at MWC 2021.

Image Credit: Intel

Intel also said the Intel Ethernet 800 Series family is expanding with the company’s first SyncE capable Ethernet Adapter designed for space-constrained systems on the edge and well-suited for both high-bandwidth 4G and 5G RAN, as well as time- and latency-sensitive applications in industrial, financial, and energy sectors, among others.

Intel summed up the tech as its Intel Network Platform, a technology foundation that aims to reduce development complexity, accelerate time to market, and help customers and partners take advantage of features in Intel hardware — from core to access to edge. Intel says its Intel Network Platform includes system-level reference architectures, drivers, and software building blocks that enable rapid development and delivery of Intel-powered network solutions and an easier, faster path to developing and optimizing network software.

Rodriguez said nearly all commercial vRAN deployments are running on Intel technology. In the years ahead, Intel sees global vRAN base station deployments scaling from hundreds to “hundreds of thousands,” and eventually millions.

Why it matters

Above: Intel’s Mobile World Congress in 2018.

Intel said operators of 5G networks want a more agile, flexible infrastructure to unleash the full possibilities of 5G and edge as they address increased network demands from more connected devices. At the same time, global digitalization is creating new opportunities to use the potential of 5G, edge, artificial intelligence (AI), and cloud to reshape industries ranging from manufacturing to retail, health care, education, and more.

Decision-makers also revealed that they view edge as one of the top three use cases for 5G in the next two years. With Intel’s portfolio delivering silicon and optimized software solutions, the company can tap into an estimated $65 billion edge silicon opportunity by 2025. Intel technology is already deployed in over 35,000 end customer edge implementations.

Network deployments

Operators like Deutsche Telekom, Dish Wireless, and Reliance Jio are relying on Intel technology. Reliance Jio announced it will participate in co-innovations with Intel in 5G radio and wireless core and collaborate in areas that include AI, cloud, and edge computing, which will help with 5G deployment.

Deutsche Telekom is using Intel FlexRAN technology with accelerators in O-RAN Town, in the O-RAN network it is deploying in Neubrandenburg, Germany — a city of 65,000 people spread out over 33 square miles. The company is relying on Intel as a technology partner to deliver high-performance RAN at scale.

Dish Wireless is relying on Intel’s contributions to the 5G ecosystem as it builds out the first cloud-native 5G network in the U.S. Its inaugural launch in Las Vegas, as well as its nationwide network, will be deployed on infrastructure powered by Intel technology in the network core, access, and edge.

Cohere is pioneering a new approach to improving spectrum utilization by leveraging capabilities in FlexRAN. It is integrating and optimizing spectrum multiplier software in the RAN intelligent controller. Cohere’s testing shows its Delay Doppler spatial multiplexing technology is improving channel estimation and delivering an up to 2 times improvement in spectrum utilization for operators. That’s what Vodafone has seen in 700Mhz testing in its labs.

And Cellnex Telecom — with support from Intel, Lenovo, and Nearby Computing — is delivering edge capabilities based on Intel Smart Edge Open. This will allow Cellnex to act faster on data, provide service-level management, improve quality of service, and deliver a more consistent experience to its end users. Deployed in Barcelona, this solution will extend to more markets using the blueprint developed with Intel and Nearby Computing.

Intel said its network business grew 20% between 2019 and 2020, from $5 billion to $6 billion. The company’s strong position is the result of early investments in hardware and software.

Intel predicted a bright future for the industry. As 5G blooms to meet its full potential alongside edge computing, experts expect artificial intelligence, the cloud, and smart cities will become the norm. Factory automation is also expected to flourish with Industry 4.0, and retail locations will redesign the shopping experience. For consumers, cloud gaming and virtual and augmented reality over mobile networks will become an everyday experience, Rodriguez said.


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Tech News

Apple is spending $430 billion more on 5G and silicon: Here’s why

On the heels of its Spring Forward event that took place last week, Apple has announced that it will be committing $430 billion in US investments over the next five years. While these investments will support the engineering of its own in-house silicon and the build out of 5G, Apple also says that it will add 20,000 jobs across the country in the same time period as well. Today, the company listed a number of states where it will focus its efforts.

In its announcement today, Apple said that its $430 billion in investments will include “direct spend with American suppliers, data center investments, capital expenditures in the US, and other domestic spend — including dozens of Apple TV+ productions across 20 states, creating thousands of jobs and supporting the creative industry.”

One state that will get a lot of attention from Apple is North Carolina, where Apple plans to spend $1 billion in opening a new campus (which you can see in concept art above) and an engineering hub in the state’s Research Triangle area in the Raleigh-Durham region. Apple also says that it will “establish a $100 million fund to support schools and community initiatives in the greater Raleigh-Durham area and across the state,” in addition to contributing $110 million in infrastructure spending across the state.

The company then detailed its plans for several states, saying that it will grow its teams in San Diego, Culver City, Boulder, Boston, and Seattle in addition to building a new campus in Austin (where construction is already underway) and a new data center in Waukee, Iowa. Back in 2018, Apple said that it would add 20,000 jobs in the US by 2023, and while the company saying that it’s on track to meet that goal today, it should be noted that today’s announcement of 20,000 jobs over the next five years are in addition to the 20,000 it committed to in 2018.

Apple’s plans also include partnering with other companies through its Advanced Manufacturing Fund. Some of the partnerships Apple detailed today include investments with XPO Logistics in Indiana, Corning in Kentucky, II-VI in Texas, and silicon engineering and 5G investments in California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, and Washington.

That last bit about silicon engineering is important, because these days, Apple is rolling with its own in-house CPUs in a number of devices like the MacBook, Mac mini, and now the iMac, and we expect that to expand more in the future too. So, these investments in silicon engineering will probably mean big things for Apple in the long run. You can read more about Apple’s investment plans over on the company’s website.

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