Linux inventor Linus Torvalds has never been one for diplomacy. He previously said “fuck you” to Nvidia for not supporting Linux, and now Intel has angered him enough to generate some more expletives. In a message to the Linux kernel mailing list on the weekend, Torvalds has expressed his dismay at Intel’s security updates to protect against the major Spectre variant 2 CPU vulnerability. The industry has been scrambling to fix the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities, and the variant 2 of Spectre has been particularly challenging.
“What the f*ck is going on?” asks Torvalds, claiming that Intel is doing “insane things” that “do not make sense” to protect against the Spectre variant 2 vulnerability. “As it is, the patches are COMPLETE AND UTTER GARBAGE,” claims Torvalds. At the heart of the issue is Intel’s approach to Spectre and the associated fixes. The Register points out that Intel’s future processors, at least for a few years, will ship vulnerable to Spectre and will include a flag that can be set in software so operating systems can protect against the vulnerabilities. Intel is essentially treating protection against Spectre as an optional feature, rather than a security bug that should be addressed.
Torvalds isn’t happy with Intel’s Spectre fix approach
“Is Intel really planning on making this shit architectural?” asks Torvalds. “Has anybody talked to them and told them they are f*cking insane? Please, any Intel engineers here – talk to your managers.” Torvalds clearly wants Intel to flag to operating systems that its future chips aren’t vulnerable so that software patches and workarounds aren’t unnecessarily applied alongside a potential hit to performance.
“We take the feedback of industry partners seriously,” says an Intel spokesperson in a statement to The Register. “We are actively engaging with the Linux community, including Linus, as we seek to work together on solutions.”
Torvalds’ critical words about Intel come after weeks of the chip maker issuing carefully-worded statements in relation to performance impacts with its Spectre fixes. While Intel promised 90 percent of machines would have fixes available by now, it turns out that some of the patches have been making machines spontaneously reboot. Intel is now recommending that people hold off on updating firmware until the company has addressed the issues.
Intel says that it’s identified the issue behind the reboots on Broadwell and Haswell processors and is working towards releasing an update. Ivy Bridge, Sandy Bridge, Skylake, and Kaby Lake processors are also affected, and Intel says it’s “actively working on developing solutions” for those processors too. Microsoft was forced to halt its own patches for some AMD systems recently after some PCs were unbootable following the software updates. It’s clear the industry as a whole has been racing to fix Meltdown and Spectre, and the usual testing hasn’t been as vigorous as a result.