New Intel Tiger Lake processors will offer on-hardware malware protection

Intel is making a huge upgrade to its Tiger Lake processors, embedding it with new security features right inside the chip.

Intel calls its new security protocol Control-Flow Enforcement Technology (CET). The company believes that this new feature will make its processors secure from hijacking attacks.

Control-flow hijacking is one of the most common attack vectors for many malware programs. Hackers use this to deliberately alter a hardware’s legitimate code to deliver their payload. With the new CET security feature, Tiger Lake processors will have CPU-level malware protection.

A significant security upgrade

As computer systems improve, so do the strategies that hackers employ to exploit their target. Among the most notorious attacks are Return Oriented Programming (ROP) and Jump Oriented Programming (JOP). These attacks are fundamentally invisible since they exploit legitimate codes that are located on the executable memory.

The new CET security feature gives developers two ways to defend their systems from control-flow hijacking attacks. First is using indirect branch tracking, the second being shadow stack.

As the name implies, the indirect branch tracking provides protection against JOP attacks. On the other hand, the shadow track protects the system against ROP attacks. Both features are embedded directly into the processor, instead of relying on software.

Intel first published the specifications for CET support back in 2016. By doing so, the chip maker allows developers to develop their code for an easy roll out.

The catch

Despite its promising feature, CET will only be available to upcoming Tiger Lake mobile processors, at least for now. Intel says that the feature will eventually find its way into desktop and server-class processors within the foreseeable future.

Intel says that it is also working with Microsoft to integrate the new security feature into Windows 10 operating system. Once it lands into Windows 10, the feature will be called Hardware-enforced Stack Protection. As of this writing, the feature is already available to Windows 10 Insider Previews.

Intel has yet to confirm when the first batch of Tiger Lake processors will hit the market. Initially, the community expects the processor to hit shelves in 2021. However, recent reports claim that the processors will hit the market within the second half of this year.

Intel Tiger Lake processors are based on the 10 nm process node. Among the processors expected to be part of its lineup is a quad-core processor with just 9W TDP.

Image courtesy of david latorre romero/Unsplash

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