Google says phones, tablets also affected by newly discovered security issue
The Google logo is seen at the Google headquarters in Brussels, in March 2010. (AP / Virginia Mayo)
Michael Oliveira, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, January 4, 2018 1:10PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 4, 2018 8:51PM EST
TORONTO -- Google says a newly discovered security vulnerability initially thought to be linked to most modern computers is actually a threat to smartphones and tablets as well.
Reports began circulating Wednesday about a mysterious hardware issue that could cause sensitive data, including user passwords, to become accessible to hackers.
To make matters worse, consumers were warned that a software update to fix the widespread problem could potentially slow down their computers, although it remains unclear to what extent that is true.
While the problem was initially identified in computers based on Intel processors, Google has since pointed out the same security issue can be found in other devices.
The tech giant says computers powered with hardware by AMD, Intel's biggest competitor, are also affected.
Google also warned that smartphones, tablets and other devices that use ARM processors will need a software update to be protected.
Last year, a team of Google researchers stumbled upon the hardware issue, which actually involves three separate vulnerabilities, and the computer industry had been collaborating in secret on a fix.
Google, Intel and other companies were planning to release details about the security issues next week, once software updates were ready to be deployed, but were forced to go public early when news of the problems leaked.
In a statement released Wednesday, Intel attempted to downplay worries about the hardware issue, saying it believes hackers "do not have the potential to corrupt, modify or delete data." The company also said a performance hit from a future software update "should not be significant and will be mitigated over time."
AMD said it believes the issues pose zero or "near-zero risk" to consumers while "negligible performance impact" is expected from a software fix.
Users of the Linux operating system can already download an update, while Microsoft is gradually pushing out fixes for Windows users.
Apple says the latest versions of its iOS, macOS and tvOS operating systems have been updated, while its Safari web browser will be "in the coming days." The company says testing shows performance slowdowns from the updates range between "no measurable reduction" in computer speed to "an impact of less than 2.5 per cent."
Google says Android devices with the latest security update installed are already protected, while users of the Chrome web browser and Chromebook computers may need to download an update.