Recent Intel CPU error causes thieves to crack BitLocker encryption

An Intel sign.
Alexander Tolstykh /

Intel has another mess on its hands as a new vulnerability has emerged that lets anyone with physical access to a computer install malicious firmware on specific Intel chips. By doing so, they can defeat protections provided by Bitlocker and others.

The affected chips are the Intel Pentium, Celeron, and Atom CPUs on the Apollo Lake, Gemini Lake, and Gemini Lake Refresh platforms. These chips are found in lower-end desktops and laptops, so if you own one of these, you’ll want to pay extra attention to your device.

As mentioned, the attacker must have physical access to the computer, which means that they can not perform the malicious exploits remotely. However, if someone manages to steal your laptop, they can get around Bitlocker, trusted platform modules, anti-copy restrictions and so on. This means that someone can get around the security there to protect your belongings.

According to Ars Technica, which has all the technical details of the exploit if you are interested, the person only needs physical access to your computer for about 10 minutes, which is plenty of time if they have actually stolen or found your laptop.

Researcher Mark Ermolov, who is part of the team that found the vulnerability, talked about the real risk of this exploitation:

An example of a real threat is lost or stolen laptops that contain confidential information in encrypted form. By using this vulnerability, an attacker could extract the encryption key and access information on the laptop.

There is currently no evidence that the bug has been exploited in the wild yet, and as long as you have control over your laptop, you should have nothing to worry about. Fortunately, there is an update, as Intel says, “that users of affected Intel processors are updating to the latest version provided by the system vendor that addresses these issues.”

If you have one of the processors listed on this page, you should install the UEFI BIOS update available from OEMs or motherboard manufacturers to ensure that you are protected, especially if you have lots of privileged information on your PC.

RELATED: How to check your BIOS version and update it

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