Intel Hyper-Threading Bug Uncovered by OCaml Developers

The OCaml community has helped uncover a serious microcode defect on Intel Skylake and Kaby Lake processors with hyper-threading enabled. Debian have issued a security advisory encouraging users of systems with the affected processors to apply the BIOS/UEFI update, or disable hyper-threading.

Related issues have been under investigation since 2016, when OCaml developers began experiencing unpredictable behaviour when using the Intel Skylake and Kaby Lake CPUs. As detailed on the Mantis issue, these included “random crashes from the compiler, and more rarely, occurrences of bad assembly code being generated (which as failed to compile), or instruction being trapped at runtime while the compiler is running.” The issues were linked to hyper-threading, and mentioned to Intel back in March 2017, with no reply from them directly. Further investigation followed over the next few months, with developers continuing to reproduce the bug successfully, until a possible fix for the microcode defect was noticed. The fix solved the OCaml issue, and it was quickly passed onto the Debian developers.

Thanks to Mark Shinwell for liaising with Intel and the Debian developers to help surface this issue.

Follow the conversation on the Debian mailing list and Hacker News.


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Author | Gemma Gordon

Gemma is the Operations Director for the OCaml Labs group in the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, and covers day-to-day management, investigates funding opportunities and organises events.