Researchers Find Serious Security Flaw In Many Common Processors

Researchers from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have discovered serious security vulnerabilities in computer chips made by Intel Corp. and STMicroelectronics. The flaws announced today are located in TPMs or trusted specialized platform modules tamper-resistant chips that computer manufacturers have been deploying in nearly all laptops, smartphones, and tablets for the past 10 years. TPMs are used to secure encryption keys for hardware authentication and cryptographic keys, including signature keys and smart card certificates.

One of the flaws the WPI team discovered is in Intel’s TPM firmware, software that runs in the Security and Management Engine in processors the company has produced since 2013. With this vulnerability, researchers used the timing leakage to recover the signature key in less than two minutes. With the signature key, hackers could forge digital signatures, enabling them to alter, delete, or steal information.

The second flaw is in STMicroelectronics’ TPM on the company’s ST33 chip. The vulnerability in STMicroelectronics’ TPM basically leaks the signature key, which should remain safely inside the hardware. The consequences for this vulnerability is the same as the Intel one, which is hackers will have the keys to the castle.

According to both companies, the vulnerabilities have been addressed and patched. With computer hardware getting more and more complicated every year, one has to wonder how many vulnerabilities are not getting noticed.


The Dual Screen Tablet From Microsoft Coming in 2020

On October 2, Microsoft held their Surface Event which showed the newest in the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop lineup. Toward the end of the event, Microsoft debuted an upcoming device, a dual-screen tablet called the Surface Neo.

The Surface Neo will feature a dual 9-inch screen with gorilla glass and a custom Intel Lakefield processor with 11th gen graphics. At its thinnest point, the Surface Neo measures 5.6mm and weights it at 655 grams. This will be the first device to come with Microsofts new Windows 10 X operating system which was designed and optimized for dual-screen devices.

As for accessories, the two that were showed were a rechargeable magnetic pen and a rechargeable magnetic keyboard. According to Microsoft, the Surface Neo will be available holiday season 2020.


Microsoft’s ARM-Based Surface Pro X

Microsoft has announced that they are releasing an ARM-based tablet calling it the Surface Pro X. The 13-inch device will feature a custom-designed SQ1 processor based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and an AI accelerator. Microsoft and Qualcomm also worked on building custom-designed GPU cores for the Pro X, which will run Microsoft’s version of Windows 10 for ARM.

As far as specifications, the device has a 13-inch display which features a 1400:1 contrast ratio and a 2880 x 1920 resolution and can be extended to a 4K screen. When it comes to connectivity, the pro x has 2x USB-c ports, 1x surface connect port, and 1x nano-sim for LTE connectivity. The memory and storage options are 8GB or 16GB LPDDR4x RAM at 3733Mbps, removable SSD 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB. At its thinnest point, the Pro X is 5.3mm thin and weighs 1.68 pounds.

With this announcement, Microsoft has joined the likes of Lenovo and Samsung who also have ARM-based devices coming soon. The Surface Pro X is going to be released on November 5 with a starting price of $999.


A Better Augmented Reality Viewing Experience

Many of us have or have tried some form of virtual reality, for a few virtual reality is a very unpleasant experience due to VR motion sickness. VR sickness is caused by conflicting signals sent to the brain from the person’s eyes, inner ear and body tissue sensory receptors.

Thanks to Cambridge engineers, VR sickness may no longer be a problem, as they have developed a new augmented reality (AR) head-mounted display (HMD) that delivers a realistic 3-D viewing experience, without the commonly associated side effects of nausea or eyestrain.

The device has an enlarged eye-box that is scalable and an increased field of view of 36º that is designed for a comfortable viewing experience. It displays images on the retina using pixel beam scanning which ensures the image stays in focus regardless of the distance that the user is fixating on.

In a study conducted with more than 50 participants between the ages of 16 – 60, the participants said that the images and videos to be of vibrant color and high contrast with no observable pixels. None of the participants experienced nausea or eyestrain even after prolonged periods of usage up to all-day testing.

Carbon Nanotube Microprocessor

Carbon nanotubes are a term we here from time to time, but what exactly is it? Simply put it’s a sheet of graphene just one atom thick that is rolled up and this makes it lightweight and strong as steel. To most material scientists, they’re a near-perfect semi-conductor (a material that can conduct electricity, but which can also be shut off).

Recently Max Shulaker at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and his team created the first complex carbon nanotube microprocessor that sits atop a silicon wafer. A previous device had 178 transistors, Shulaker version has more than 14,000.
When compared to conventional silicon, carbon nanotube processors offer a couple of improvements. A processor made completely of carbon nanotubes will be 10 times more efficient. When it comes to the actual fabrication of the processor, silicon requires a temperature of 1000°C or higher, carbon nanotube transistors can be made at room temperature.

We are quickly reaching the end of what silicon can provide, carbon nanotubes may be what we turn to next as the limit for carbon nanotubes has yet to be discovered.

World’s Largest Processor With 400,000 Cores!!!

Startup microchip developer Cerebras on Monday unveiled the largest computer processing chip ever built. The chip called “Wafer-Scale Engine” (WSE) was designed for the company’s deep learning machine built to power AI systems. Most chips that are developed today can fit on the tip of your finger, Cerebras chip, on the other hand, measures 8 1/2 inches on each side.

The WSE’s surface contains 400,000 cores with 1.2 trillion transistors and compared to the Nvidia V100 chip, the WSE has 3,000 times the memory circuits.

The new WSE offers a couple of key advantages. The first and obvious one is computational power, with so many processing cores and chip memory the chip can handle thousands of models in the time it takes a conventional systems to handle just one. The other problem the WSE chip solves is there is no lag time between cores. Current servers with multiple chips slow down when sending data between the chips over the slower wires linking them on a circuit board.

Cerebras new chip will help to solve complex AI problems faster, cheaper, and use far less energy than current systems.

A Chip That Converts Heat Into Electricity

Imagine if you could take the heat generated by things we use everyday phones, laptops, cars, etc. and convert it into electricity. Well you might not have to imagine very long, University of Utah mechanical engineering associate professor Mathieu Francoeur has discovered a way to produce more electricity from heat than thought possible by creating a silicon chip that converts more thermal radiation into electricity.

Previously researchers determined that there is a theoretical limit to how much energy can be produced from heat which is known as the “blackbody limit”. However Francoeur and his team demonstrated that at the nanoscale level it’s possible to go beyond this blackbody limit.

This technology opens up the possibility to not only cool down portable devices, but also to gain as much as 50% more battery life. It can also increase the amount of electricity a solar panel can generate and help reduce the wear and tear of computer processors without needing a bulky heatsink and fan. Read the full article to learn more.

“Agent Smith” Malware Infects More Than 25 Million Devices

According to security firm Check Point, a new Android malware has already infected more than 25 million devices. The malware that researchers named “Agent Smith” doesn’t steal data from users. Instead it rewrites the code of apps and forces them to display more ads or takes credit for the ads they already display so that the malware’s operator can profit off the fraudulent views.

Although the malware primarily infected devices in India with an estimated 15 million devices infected in that region alone, Check Point says the malware has infected more then 300,000 devices in the US. The malware’s creator attempted to add 11 apps into the Google Play Store, luckily accord to Check Point, Google removed all the malicious apps before they went live.

Check Point writes “This application was as malicious as they come” and seems to be run by a Chinese company that claims to help developers publish their apps.

The Credit Card Size Desktop Computer

What was once intended for educational purposes when it was released back in 2012 is now the smallest desktop replacement computer. Recently the makers of the Raspberry Pi released version 4 of the popular credit card sized computer. What makes this version different is it has been upgraded with a 1.5GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A72 CPU and up to 4GB of DDR4 RAM. This makes version 4 comparable to a entry level desktop computer while only using 15 watts of power.

The Raspberry Pi 4 is the first to be powered by USB-C, as well as, being able to drive two 4K monitors via the two micro HDMI ports. Other new features include a Gigabit Ethernet port and 2x USB 3.0 ports.

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Universal Computer Memory

After decades of research, scientists from Lancaster University in the UK have invented and patented what’s best described as universal computer memory.

The are two things that make this new memory revolutionary, the first is the data doesn’t have to be refreshed constantly. With traditional memory, the data is volatile and must be continuously ‘refreshed’ to avoid it being lost. This ability, makes it possible for computers that do not need to boot up and could instantaneously and imperceptibly go into sleep mode.

Universal Computer Memory’s second advantage is that it uses an incredibly small amount of energy. The amount is about a 100 times less energy than current memory.